Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Third World Problems


March 1, 2018

We complain about our regulations and enforcement officials, usually with good reason, but as tight as it is to make a living fishing on the West Coast, it's tougher elsewhere.

In North Korea, food is so scarce that crews are sent out to fish, likely with few provisions, and expected to stay out until they meet a quota. The result is a fleet of "ghost ships" washing up on Japanese beaches with the bodies of North Korean fishermen.

Late last month, Britain's Sky News reported the skeletal remains of eight suspected North Koreans had been recovered from the wreckage of a small wooden ship in Japan. It was found by police in Kanazawa - the capital of Japan's central Honshu Island - last month alongside one body, with bad weather initially preventing officers from examining the scene more closely.

The news reported seven more bodies were found when the Coast Guard returned on Monday and police believe they came from North Korea, with state broadcaster NHK reporting that a badge depicting former leader Kim Jong II and founder Kim II Sung was also discovered.

These incidents happen with alarming regularity, and Japanese authorities speculate that food shortages in North Korea are to blame.

Sky News reports that a record total of 104 wooden ships thought to be from the Korean peninsula washed up on Japanese shores last year, compared with 66 in 2016.

The crew is often already dead when they wash ashore, a phenomenon leading them to be referred to in the local media as "ghost ships".

It is an accepted fact that North Korea's brutal leaders hold hostages when allowing citizens to leave the country for diplomatic or scientific reasons. The current leader is the latest in the line of the Kim dynasty, Kim Jong-un, who is considered particularly inhumane. This keeps fishermen from escaping to nearby democracies, or at least less brutal regimes, as soon as their boats hit the water.

There is also speculation that the crews are instructed not to come back empty handed or face punishment. The results of this policy can be found washed up on Japanese beaches.

Next time you're frustrated by the red tape of your local fish department, take a moment to think of your brethren in North Korea, and hope they have a successful trip.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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