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Who are these bodies? It's nearly impossible to say at this time.
Having floated into the waters off the coast of the Ishikawa Prefecture and the Fukui Prefecture, the Japanese Coast Guard has said that all of the bodies were "partially skeletonized." One of the the Fukui Prefecture boats held, "six skulls, one nearly intact body with a head, and various other bones and remains."
Two bodies on another boat were found missing their heads. The Japanese authorities are currently attempting to identify the age, gender, and cause of death of the bodies.
34 of these "mystery boats" have been found adrift in Japanese waters. That is, 34 boats this year.
Nope, you're not special 2015, Japan has been receiving mysterious "ships of the dead" for years now. According to the Japanese Coast Guard the count for the last five years is as follows:
57 ships in 2011
47 ships in 2012
80 ships in 2013 (80!!)
65 ships in 2014
Add in the total from this year, and that's 283 BOATS FULL OF DEAD PEOPLE that keep showing up in Japan. And frankly, in all likelihood that's 283 boats and counting.
And while 2015 saw the number of these boats decrease, the number of boats in the past few weeks is a record. Where are these boats coming from? What is going on?
Most likely they come from North Korea. One of the boats had Korean Hangul writing on the side that said, "Korean People's Army" and a scrap of a North Korean flag was found on another boat. The boats also seem to fit the design of more "primitive" North Korean fishing boats. But much more information about the boats falls to speculation.
Some say the boats carried North Korean defectors. Maritime expert Yoshihiko Yamada says that the boats fit the description of those used by people fleeing North Korea. A cause for the fate of the passengers may be that their boats couldn't navigate the currents that flow between the Korean Peninsula and the coast of Japan.
"(The boats) are made of wood and are old and heavy. They can't travel very fast and the engines are not powerful enough to turn the ships against the currents," Yamada told NHK, Japan's national public broadcasting organization.
Could the strong current have rendered defectors stranded at sea? The Guardian notes however, that North Korean defectors typically try to escape by foot into China, or into "the coastal waters to neighboring South Korea."
Yet John Nilsson-Wright "head of the Asia program at the Chatham House policy institute" told CNN hat "defectors could be taking the more dangerous route across the Sea of Japan -- also known as the East Sea -- because traditional routes, like crossing the border into China, are now policed and could be harder to use."
However the more popular theory, and perhaps more troubling, is that the boats were manned by fishermen pushed to overwork and starvation by Kim Jong-un. With pressure to catch more fish and bring in more foreign currency (fish is a major export to China for North Korea), North Korean fishermen are willing to undertake dangerous fishing practices.
At this time North Korea has no comment on the boats, but Kim has been "pushing hard" for more fish at any cost.
Could the cost be the lives of hundreds of desperate people?
North Korean fishing boats, as mentioned before, are not well maintained and do not have the muscle required to traverse the rough waters and strong currents. Could "bad engines" on the boats have sentenced fishermen to a slow death at sea?
According to Kim Do-hoon, as told to Reuters, "professor of fisheries science at Bukyong National University in Busan in South Korea" the fishermen's underperforming boats sometimes "drift, and fishermen starve to death."
There is nothing about this whole situation that isn't chilling to me. Obviously finding dozens of drifting boats filled with decaying corpses every year is not part of the job description when you sign up for the Coast Guard.
And while these lost boats conjure up more than a few thoughts of "ghost ships" and scary legends, this is very real. The idea that human beings were pushed so far, or were in such a desperate circumstance, that they chose to undertake a voyage that they knew could end very badly, is a terrifying reality.
The fact that we know so little about the situation, that the bodies can't even be identified, adds to the horror of the situation.
And what about the state of the bodies? Authorities say there is no sign of a struggle on the ships. Did the people aboard have no choice but to quietly embrace their fate?
Then again, if there was no struggle, why are so many bodies missing heads (and so many heads missing bodies)? Why have so many of the bodies been found in a jumble? Is this because of rats? Being tossed about at sea?
If the boats faltered at sea and were set adrift with no hope of return, did something happen between going adrift and starving to death? What were their final moments like?
This is one of those Creepy Corners that I find both incredibly eerie and incredibly unsettling on a human level. While much of the public is just learning about these boats now, it has been going on for some time and will probably continue. This is not a new thing. People are dying. But why? What is happening?
If you have more information, or have anything to add, please share in the comments. What do you think of the Japan "mystery boats"?