Over the past two months, the Japanese coast guard has been towing in gruesome finds off its western shores: fishing boats filled with nets, hooks, and, in some of the boats, decomposing corpses, NBC News reports. A total of between 20 to 25 bodies on 11 vessels (the latest boat reportedly had anywhere from three to seven bodies inside, based on conflicting media reports) have been retrieved so far in the Sea of Japan along shoreline that stretches over five prefectures, from Hokkaido in the north to Fukui in the southwest. That body of water separates the island nation from Russia and the Koreas—and authorities suspect that the boats came from North Korea, based on scraps of cloth that featured the Korean alphabet, NBC notes. The boats have, for the most part, been pulled to Japan's shores, but the bodies still need to be IDed, per the BBC.
Per the Independent, the latest boat towed into a Fukui port was spotted about 62 miles out to sea and contained remains that "were badly decomposed and partially skeletonized," Tokyo Broadcasting System reports. The paper also notes that Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reports a cloth fragment believed to be part of the North Korean flag was found inside one of the boats; meanwhile, writing on the outside of one of the vessels is believed to say "Korean People's Army." So how and why did the boats end up adrift and their occupants dead? Some experts say refugees may have tried to escape their homeland, while others say fishermen could have simply been carried too far from land in their non-GPS boats and been lost at sea for months, per the Independent. At least 175 boats have drifted from the Korean Peninsula to Japan since 2013, and some of those who've been rescued have told the Japanese coast guard they're North Korean fishermen, the Tokyo Reporter notes. (Fishing isn't the only way North Korea is trying to bring in money.)