Photo/IllutrationMembers of a new coast guard mobile surveillance unit examine a wooden boat that drifted ashore in Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture, on Nov. 29. (Provided by the Japan Coast Guard's Aomori Coast Guard Office)

  • Photo/Illustraion

AOMORI--The Coast Guard office here set up a mobile surveillance unit to respond to a rising number of often dilapidated wooden boats found drifting or washed up on the coastline, many apparently from North Korea.

The Aomori Coast Guard Office on Nov. 4 established the patrol team and a liaison office that is aimed at sharing information with local authorities.

Both are based in the town hall building in Ajigasawa, Aomori Prefecture, and have already dealt with numerous instances of boats presumed to be from North Korea.

Members of the 2nd Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, which oversees the Tohoku region, are tasked with monitoring the prefecture's coastline.

Several officers are on duty at any one time to respond quickly to a boat sighting.

The surveillance team has already dealt with 15 such instances, eight of which were found by the members of the team.

Coast guard officers regularly visit the liaison office to provide updates and share information with officials of municipal governments.

The Aomori Coast Guard Office set up the team in response to growing concerns among residents about the rising number of boats drifting along the Sea of Japan coast in recent years.

After receiving a report of a vessel adrift, coast guard officers used to deal with the matter by driving to the scene from Aomori city. Now that daytime patrols are in place, the office can respond to a call more quickly.

During winter, the office used to deploy patrol boats and aircraft to monitor the Sea of Japan coastline.

“We are now monitoring (the coast) from land, sea and the air," said Naoki Kado, who is in charge of security and rescue. "By doing this, we hope we can ease the anxiety of local residents, if only a little.”

Eight wooden boats were found drifting along Aomori Prefecture's coastline in 2016, according to the 2nd Regional Coast Guard Headquarters. In 2018, the figure surged to 51, the second highest in the nation.

In January, two crew members believed to be North Koreans were taken into protective custody.

“We feel safer knowing that (coast guard officers) are stationed nearby and will deal with situations where a boat carries crew properly,” said Yutaka Kobayashi, the 55-year-old general manager of the Shinfukaura fisheries cooperative association in Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture.

The town has witnessed an especially high number of wooden boats washing up on the coast among municipalities in the prefecture.

“We are relieved that the office can now start an investigation (into such cases) more quickly,” said Minoru Saito, 55, who heads the section in charge of residents’ affairs at the town hall in Fukaura.