North Korea-Linked Boats Carrying Corpses Turn Up Off Japan

TOKYO — A total of 20 decomposing corpses have been found in wooden fishing boats off Japan's coast, authorities said.

Eleven vessels were discovered in the past two months, the most recent being towed ashore six days ago, a coast guard spokesman told NBC News on Monday.

Items found on board have fueled speculation in the Japanese press that the boats may have come from North Korea. None of the vessels have carried GPS equipment, but instead many contained fishing nets, hooks and pieces of clothing featuring the Korean hangul alphabet, the spokesman said.

All the vessels been found off a large stretch of the country's western shoreline, covering five prefectures from Hokkaido in the north to Fukui in the southwest. They were discovered in the Sea of Japan, which separates the country from Russia and the Koreas.

The boat towed ashore in Fukui on Tuesday contained seven bodies, according to the spokesman.

More evidence of the boats' origins came last year, when the coast guard rescued four men in a similar wooden vessel who claimed to be North Korean fishermen, the spokesman added.

It is not the first time such vessels have been discovered; 80 boats were reported in 2013, 65 in 2014, and 34 so far this year, according to the coast guard. Some of these boats also contained corpses.