An unnerving mystery has risen out of the shores and waters around Japan. Strange and unmarked wooden ships have been found drifting aimlessly while carrying chilling cargo – decaying or headless bodies. All of the twenty-two bodies found within the last two months have been at least “partially skeletonized”. Two were found without heads and one boat contained six skulls, the coast guard said.
But it gets even stranger. This activity isn’t new to Japan. While these recent reports have garnered plenty of attention, ghost ships have been appearing off of the coast of Japan for years, but data on these incidents has only been retained by the coast guard for the last five years. CNN reports that in 2011, 57 ships were found. In 2012, it was 47, and in 2013, 80 more were discovered. In 2014, 65 were found, and so far this year, including the recent 12, the number is 34. That’s an incredible total of 283 boats in just the last five years.
The ships appear to be from Korea. They are old, wooden, and heavy, and at least one was reportedly marked with Korean Hangul lettering that spells out “Korean People’s Army.” There was also a piece of cloth aboard one of the ships that looks to be a piece of the North Korean flag.
Many believe that these ships are full of people attempting to defect from North Korea. Life inside the borders of the country remains extraordinarily hard, and fleeing from the country is, while difficult, not rare. Because of the condition of the ships, they travel slowly and would make the chances of a successful trip across the sea poor.
Other analysts believe that the dead were simply fishermen who were blown off course by bad weather. Netting has been found aboard, and Kim Jong Un has been pushing his subjects to increase their catch in recent months. “Kim Jong Un has been promoting the fisheries, which could explain why there are more fishing boats going out,” said Kim Do-hoon, a professor of fisheries science at Bukyong National University in Busan. “But North Korean boats perform really poorly, with bad engines, risking lives to go far to catch more. Sometimes they drift, and fishermen starve to death.”
Japan will continue to investigate the source of the ships, the cause of death, and the condition that the bodies arrive in. North Korea has yet to comment on the ships, and since they have been arriving for years, it is likely that they will continue to come.