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N. Korea Boat Captain Charged in Theft from Tiny Japan Island

FILE - A Japan Coast Guard vessel sails near a drifting wooden boat carrying men identified as North Koreans off Matsumae town, on Japanese northern island of Hokkaido, in this photo taken by Kyodo, Nov. 29, 2017.

Japanese authorities on Thursday indicted the North Korean captain of a boat that drifted to its coast on charges of stealing a generator, appliances and other equipment from an uninhabited island, officials and media reports said.

The captain and his nine crewmembers on the dilapidated boat were rescued near a tiny island off of Hokkaido, northern Japan, in late November. Japanese police said they arrested the captain and two crewmembers earlier this month on suspicion they stole a generator and appliances from a barn on the island.

Prosecutors on Thursday charged the captain with theft, meaning he will stand trial in Japan, according to reports from Japanese media, including NHK public television. The prosecutor's office declined to comment on the case when contacted by telephone.

NHK reported that the captain played a leading role and also stole nearly 40 items including a television, appliances, as well as solar panels and equipment for a lighthouse on the island, worth more than 5.6 million yen ($50,000).

Winds and water currents push dozens of 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.

The increased pace of the past few weeks has prompted Japanese authorities to step up patrols.

About 100 of the vessels, many of them empty, have been detected this year, most of them since November. Japanese authorities have been holding dozens of people from those boats and eight men were recently repatriated via Beijing after they expressed a desire to return home.