Scores of dilapidated wooden boats believed to be from North Korea have washed ashore in northern Japan in a seasonal influx.
The coast guard said Monday that 95 rickety boats, sometimes carrying skeletonized bodies, have arrived so far this year, a pace that is likely to exceed last year's record 104 arrivals. It said 12 bodies have been found on the boats.
Winds and water currents push dozens of "ghost boats" on to Japan's northern coasts annually. Rickety North Korean fishing boats are particularly vulnerable because they lack the sturdiness and equipment to return home.
Japanese authorities have stepped up patrols as the number of ship arrivals has soared in recent years.
The increase may be related to a North Korean campaign to boost fish harvests to increase sources of protein for the nation, which is struggling to achieve food self-sufficiency and to overcome health problems caused by poor diets, experts say. To reach their quotas, North Korean fishermen may be taking more risks and venturing farther from their usual waters, possibly violating Japan's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, they say.
More than one-third of the boats this year have arrived on Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido, possibly because of attempts to travel further north to evade patrols by Japan's coast guard.
The influx of ghost boats has also raised security concerns. Last year, the coast guard found about 30 bodies on the boats, while 40 others were alive.