TOKYO, Sep 14, 2019, The Yomiuri Shimbun. A North Korean government vessel with armed crew threatened a Fisheries Agency’s patrol ship in the Sea of Japan in late August, prompting Japanese fishing boats operating in the area to flee, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned, reported The Japan News.
The patrol ship was attempting to crack down on illegal fishing by North Korean and other foreign vessels at the time of the incident, and the agency believes the North Korean vessel’s actions were an attempt to disrupt the agency’s policing operations.
The Japanese government has protested to the North Korean government through diplomatic channels, while also continuing to monitor waters in the area.
According to several government sources, the incident occurred in Japan’s exclusive economic zone west of the Yamatotai — a rich fishing ground for squid and shrimp that is located about 300 kilometers northwest of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture.
On Aug. 23, a North Korean high-speed craft with armed crew approached the agency’s patrol ship when it was attempting to crack down on illegal fishing in the area, according to the sources. At the time, several Japanese and North Korean fishing boats were nearby.
The agency’s patrol boat concluded that it was dangerous to continue fishing, and called on the Japanese fishing boats to evacuate the area, according to the sources.
The following morning, a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat, on alert after receiving a report from the agency, spotted a high-speed boat believed to be the North Korean vessel in waters nearby. The JCG patrol boat also confirmed that crew members carrying rifles were on board, the sources said. The suspicious boat temporarily closed to within 30 meters of the JCG patrol boat.
The JCG has taken additional security precautions.
Since 2017, when the United Nations imposed tighter sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile development programs, illegal fishing by large numbers of North Korean fishing boats in and around the Yamatotai has become an issue.
In July that year, a crew member on a boat believed to be registered to North Korea pointed a rifle at an agency patrol boat. In the August incident, armed crew aboard a high-speed boat approached a patrol boat, leading the Japanese government to believe that North Korea has stepped up its threats.
In March, the U.N. Security Council released an annual report by a panel of experts that said North Korea had obtained foreign currency by selling its fishing rights to Chinese fishermen.
Some Japanese government officials believe that North Korean fishing boats have been engaged in illegal fishing because they cannot operate in waters near their home.