TOKYO, Oct 9, 2019, Hankyoreh. Twenty North Korean fishermen who fell into the ocean when their fishing boat collided with a Japanese patrol ship have all been rescued. “A North Korean fishing boat that had entered Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the Yamato Bank collided with a patrol ship [from the Fisheries Agency] that was performing its duties at 9:07 am,” said Satoshi Kuwahara, chief of the resource management and enforcement division at Japan’s Fisheries Agency, during a press conference held on Oct. 7, reported the Hankyoreh.
The Japanese government said that some 60 North Korean fishermen had been rescued in the accident, Kyodo News reported on Monday afternoon. The Japanese government had earlier announced that day that 60 members of the crew had fallen into the water from the North Korean boat, which eventually sank. It’s not certain whether any of the crew were still aboard when the boat went down. Japan has indicated to North Korea that it will return the rescued crew members to the North.
According to the Japanese government, the collision occurred in a section of the East Sea 350km to the northwest of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture known as the Yamato Bank. This bank is regarded as a rich fishing ground, offering a bountiful catch of crabs and squid.
Japan claims the area as part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Part of the Yamato Bank (known as the Daehwa Bank in Korea) falls in an intermediary area between Japan and South Korea as part of their fishing agreement.
“We typically respond to illegal fishing boats by firing water cannons or by activating electric displays informing them of [their illegal fishing]. We were asking the fishing boat to leave according to standard procedure when this collision occurred,” Kuwahara said.
There has been continuing conflict between North Korean and Japan over the activity of North Korean fishing boats in the Yamato Bank and nearby waters. North Korea doesn’t accept Japan’s claim that the Yamato Bank fishing ground is part of its EEZ. Clashes between the two sides have been occurring more frequently as of late after North Korea stepped up fishing activities following the UN’s imposition of sanctions.
In August, a ship bearing what appeared to be the flag of the North Korean Navy was in this area when it came within 30m of a patrol boat operated by the Japanese Coast Guard. The Japanese press reported that someone on the North Korea ship was carrying a rifle.
During that incident, the North Korean crew appear to have made the claim to the Japanese patrol ship that the waters in question are part of North Korea’s EEZ. “On Aug. 23 and 24, a patrol ship with the Japanese Coast Guard and other vessels that had illegally intruded in our exclusive economic zone on Aug. 23 and 24 were chased away by our country’s defensive measures. Driving Japanese ships out of our waters is a legitimate exercise of our sovereignty,” the Korean Central News Agency quoted a spokesperson for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry as saying on Sept. 17.
By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent