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Japan Searches for More Crew Members of Suspected North Korean Spy Ship

Japanese officials say they have found three bodies believed to be crew members of a suspected North Korean surveillance ship that sank in the East China Sea after an exchange of gunfire with Japanese patrol boats. Two of the bodies have been recovered. Japan's prime minister says the Coast Guard acted in self-defense.

More than two dozen Japanese ships and planes from the Coast Guard and Maritime Self-Defense Force are continuing to look for about a dozen other crew members who went overboard when the boat sank.

Japanese officials say an examination of clothing on the bodies recovered so far found writing in Korean Hangul script, furthering their suspicion that the vessel was from North Korea.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the rare action of the Japanese Coast Guard opening fire on a vessel was justified. Mr. Koizumi said this was a legitimate act of self-defense, even when the pursuit entered waters of China's economic zone. He said he regrets the loss of life.

Two members of Japan's Coast Guard were wounded in the exchange of gunfire. They were admitted to a hospital on the island of Amami Oshima, and television pictures showed them walking into the hospital with bandages on their arms.

A senior Coast Guard official told a news conference that the sunken ship looked very much like North Korean spy boats that Japanese patrol vessels had previously encountered, despite reports that the crew of this vessel was waving Chinese flags.

Coast Guard officials say the incident began Saturday, when the boat entered Japanese economic waters, which extend 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from Japan's territorial waters. Officials say the vessel refused orders to stop. There was a subsequent exchange of automatic gunfire and a chase before the vessel caught fire and sank.