Over the past five years more than 500 battered North Korean boats have washed ashore in Japan - some containing skeletons.
Last December, one boat was found containing two human heads as well as the partially decomposed bodies of five others when it came ashore on Sado Island.
Until now officials have been in the dark about why these boats are appearing, but according to a new investigation from Global Fishing Watch (GFW) and NBC News, the shipwrecks could be occurring due to Chinese boats being sent to illegally fish in North Korean waters.
The report claims these illegal boats have prompted desperate North Korean fishermen to travel out further to sea, risking their lives in unsafe boats, and, on occasion, being swept away by strong waves and perishing at sea.
The Japanese Coastguard says more than 50 North Korean nationals have washed up on beaches in the past two years.
Jungsam Lee, who works as the Korea Maritime Institute, told the Guardian: "Competition from the industrial Chinese trawlers is likely displacing the North Korean fishers, pushing them into neighbouring Russian waters.
"The North Koreans' smaller wood boats are ill-equipped for this long-distance travel."
Researchers used satellite data to try and get to the bottom of the grim occurrence, which they say is likely to be a breach of UN sanctions that forbid foreign fishing in North Korean waters.
Jaeyoon Park, who is a senior data scientist at GFW and co-lead author of the study, told the Guardian: "The scale of the fleet involved in this illegal fishing is about one-third the size of China's entire distant-water fishing fleet.
"It is the largest known case of illegal fishing perpetrated by vessels originating from one country operating in another nation's water."
Responding to the report, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told NBC: "China has consistently and conscientiously enforced the resolutions of the [UN] Security Council relating to North Korea."
It added that China 'consistently punished' illegal fishing, but did not confirm or deny allegations of Chinese boats fishing in North Korean waters.
Featured Image Credit: Ruptly
- Bigfoot sightings have now been explained in groundbreaking new study
- Hundreds of thousands in Wuhan get plunged back into lockdown due to rise in Covid-19 cases
- Scientists have discovered a new novel virus in China that’s infected dozens of people already
- Former Apprentice star says some candidates have sex in the house when they're not supposed to