(LATIMES) — Shizuo Kakutani sees no great mystery in the things that wash ashore in Monzen, his quiet fishing village on the Sea of Japan — the fishing boats ravaged by fierce winter storms, the Chinese garbage carried to land by the strong winds, the occasional body that drifts in from Yaseno, the nearby cliffs notorious for suicides.
The ghost ships, however, are harder to explain.
On an early morning in November, the 71-year-old retired fisherman received a call from his colleagues at the town's civilian coast guard. A black mass bobbling in the water — most likely a boat — had been spotted hooked to a distant buoy.
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"When I saw the boat, I immediately knew that it was from North Korea," Kakutani said. He had seen similar vessels before — no more than 30 feet long, made of wood, its flat-bottomed hull covered in black tar.