Photo/IllutrationInvestigators on Dec. 4 carry a solar panel that was apparently removed by North Korean fishermen on Matsumaekojima, a deserted island off Matsumae, Hokkaido. (Pool)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

The discovery of four more corpses and a ransacked hut on an island off Hokkaido have heightened fears about the wooden boats and corpses apparently from North Korea that are washing ashore in northern Japan.

The four bodies were confirmed on the coasts of Yamagata and Akita prefectures on Dec. 4.

“More boats might wash ashore in December when rough seas become more frequent,” a Japan Coast Guard executive said.

On Nov. 28, a boat carrying 10 people drifted to Matsumaekojima island, a deserted island off Matsumae, in southern Hokkaido.

The lock was broken on a shelter hut on the island, and the place had been ransacked. Televisions, refrigerators and other items were missing, Hokkaido police sources said Dec. 4.

Some solar panels used to power the lighthouse on the island had been removed, and four panel units were later found on the island, the sources said.

A television and other electronic goods were found in the boat, which was towed by Hokkaido police and the Japan Coast Guard to the Hakodate Port area. An investigation is being conducted.

Near the Yonago fishing port in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, a Japanese fishery worker found a corpse around 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 4. Two other bodies were discovered on a nearby coast around 8:30 a.m.

A wooden boat had been confirmed in the vicinity on Dec. 2.

A 73-year-old man who spotted the wooden boat noted that there are many abandoned houses in the area.

“(We are) afraid that someone on a boat that drifts to the coast at night will hide in an empty house,” he said.

The partially skeletal remains of a man were found in Nikaho, Akita Prefecture, around 8 a.m. on Dec. 4. Pieces of wood apparently from his boat were discovered around the beach.

The Japan Coast Guard started compiling detailed data on the number of drifted boats and bodies in 2014.

The 28 cases in November were overwhelmingly the most on record. At least 13 bodies were found in the same month.

Forty-two people were discovered alive after being adrift at sea in November, compared with four survivors in 2014 and just one in 2015.

If they are found inland or on a coast, police or other authorities take them into protective custody. If they are still at sea, the Japan Coast Guard rescues them and hands them over to nearby North Korean fishing boats.

Many North Korea vessels are reportedly illegally fishing in the Yamatotai fishing grounds about 400 kilometers west of the Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture.