Japanese authorities were preparing Thursday to inspect a decrepit boat with 10 men identifying themselves as North Koreans drifting in rough seas off the northern island of Hokkaido. Coast guard officials said they were towing the wooden boat to a safer area for inspection. Officials spotted the boat off the western coast of Matsumae town Tuesday but rough seas prevented them from approaching it. The coast guard said the men communicated in Korean via loudspeakers and a message board saying they were from North Korea and taking refuge at a nearby island due to rough weather, the AP reports.
It was not immediately known whether the boat was involved in illegal fishing inside Japan's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Japan has been stepping up patrols after a recent spike in the number of boats turning up on its coasts. Officials said they were linked to a reported campaign by the North to send fishermen farther out for more catches. Last week, a boat washed ashore in northern Japan with eight men who said they were North Korean fishermen. On Sunday, the skeletal remains of another eight men were found on a "ghost ship" found 45 miles north from where the first vessel washed ashore.
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