Photo/IllutrationPolice check a wooden boat in Hakodate, Hokkaido, on Dec. 9. Three of its crew members were arrested that day on suspicion of stealing a generator from a shelter hut on Matsumaekojima island. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A total of 79 wooden boats apparently from North Korea have washed ashore in Japan this year, one shy of the annual record set in 2013, the Japan Coast Guard said.

The number, as of noon on Dec. 12, includes a boat found in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, earlier in the day. A body inside the vessel and another body nearby were also discovered.

Three other bodies were discovered in Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture, on the same morning, and they may have come from an overturned wooden boat found off the town on Dec. 4.

The coast guard said the annual record may be broken this year because the Sea of Japan becomes stormier in winter.

Of the 79 boats, 28 were found in November. December’s total could exceed that figure. Twenty boats were discovered in only the first 12 days of the month.

The coast guard also said 19 bodies have been confirmed this year apparently in relation to the wooden boats. The record for corpses discovered is 27 in 2015.

Local municipalities are facing difficulties on how to deal with the bodies and the wooden boats.

The coast guard also found 42 survivors, who were placed in protective custody and returned to North Korea through such means as handing them over to North Korean fishing vessels.

However, some crew members of a vessel are believed to have landed on the uninhabited Matsumaekojima island off southern Hokkaido and stolen a generator from a shelter hut in November. Police arrested three of them on Dec. 9 on suspicion of theft.