TOKYO: Japan rescued about 60 North Korean crew members from a fishing boat that sank after it collided with a Japanese patrol boat that was chasing it out of Japanese waters, the Japan Coast Guard said on Monday (Oct 7).
All the crew members that abandoned the fishing boat were rescued and handed over to another North Korean ship, the Coast Guard said.
The collision between the North Korean vessel and a patrol ship from Japan's Fisheries Agency took place 350km northwest of Noto peninsula in central Japan.
Following the collision shortly after 9am, the Fisheries Agency and Coast Guard mobilised seven ships and aircraft to search for North Korean crew members.
The Coast Guard did not give details about how the two vessels crashed in the Sea of Japan, but Taku Eto, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said a sharp turn by the North Korean ship caused the accident.
"The collision happened because the other ship took a sharp turn. There were no injuries on our patrol ship," Eto told reporters.
A Japanese official said the North Korean boat was fishing illegally in Japan's exclusive economic zone.
"Normally, we police illegal fishing with such steps as using water cannon or showing messages on electronic displays," Satoshi Kuwahara, head of the Fisheries Agency's enforcement division, was quoted by public broadcaster NHK as saying.
"This time, the contact happened while we were warning the ship to sail away."
The collision took place near a rich fishing ground known as the Yamato Shallows. Japan has said North Koreans are illegally poaching squid in the area.
In the wake of the accident, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament: "We will continue taking resolute action to prevent illegal operations by foreign ships."
Experts say some fishermen from the North are travelling far out to sea in order to satisfy government mandates for bigger catches.
But their old and poorly equipped vessels are prone to mechanical faults and other problems, including running out of fuel, and there are few ways for them to call for rescue.
A record 225 suspected North Korean fishing vessels washed up on Japan's coast last year, according to the coastguard.
Boats have also washed up on Japanese shores with the crew on board dead - referred to as "ghost ships" by local media.
In 2018, 10 North Koreans rescued from a tiny wooden boat drifting off northern Japan were deported back to their country.