Eight men found on the northwestern coast of Japan late Thursday claim to be North Koreans whose boat broke down and drifted ashore on a fishing trip hundreds of miles from home.
Japan will deal “appropriately” with the men, whose nationalities haven’t been confirmed but who appear to be in good health, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo on Friday. Public broadcaster NHK said the men have asked to be returned to North Korea.
Wooden boats have been reported as drifting to the Japanese coast on 43 occasions this year, but the group appear to be the first to survive the grueling experience in almost three years. One man was found to have done so in January 2015, according to Japan’s coast guard.
The men were discovered after police responded to an emergency call reporting “suspicious people,” Suga said. They were apprehended at Yurihonjo in Akita Prefecture, and a 20-meter long wooden squid-fishing boat was found close by, according to NHK.
The incident comes as Japan urges the international community to ratchet up pressure on North Korea to abandon its missile and nuclear-weapon programs. In September, the Pyongyang regime fired its second missile over Japan in as many months.
Earlier this month, Japan rescued a group of three fishermen whose boat had capsized in the Sea of Japan, and returned them to a North Korean ship.
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