Ghost Ships Filled With Skeletons Keep Washing Ashore In Japan

Social media and the news have been full of stories about mysterious ghost ships in Japan washing ashore. That may sound like some chilling tale involving sea monsters or the revenge of Davy Jones, but the truth about this phenomenon is more sad than scary. While true stories of ghost ships have appeared throughout history and incited many nautical legends, the ghost ships of Japan have a few very real explanations.

It is believed the ghost ships washing ashore in Japan may be from North Korea. In addition to the mysterious boats themselves, the human remains found on ghost ships made the discoveries even more eerie. The evidence discovered may have led the Japanese Coast Guard to attribute the boats to North Korea, but like the unknown circumstances behind ghost ships from history, the true reason for the existence of these ghost ships may never be known. Since North Korea isn't talking and corpses don't say much, the story of these ghost ships and the people who perished on them might simply be lost to the sea.


  • Skeletons With Products From North Korea Were Found On The Boats

    Skeletons With Products From North Korea Were Found On The Boats
    Photo: yeowatzup / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    On most of the boats that washed up on Japan's shores, the occupants had been deceased for so long that only bones remained. The bodies were so badly decomposed that it was difficult to tell who they were or exactly how they died. In fact, authorities discovered only one complete corpse on one ship, the others completely reduced to disparate bones. However, lettering on the side of the boats looked to be Korean, and several boats were branded with "Korean People's Army" or "State Security Department" on the side. Flags, unused life jackets, and packs of North Korean brands of cigarettes have also been found among the skeletons.

    Authorities believe the occupants of the boats most likely died from starvation, dehydration, or exposure to the elements from being at sea so long, either due to engine malfunction or running out of fuel.

  • It's Believed The Bodies Found On The Ghost Ships Were North Korean Fishermen

    It's Believed The Bodies Found On The Ghost Ships Were North Korean Fishermen
    Video: YouTube

    One possible explanation for the ghost ships is that the people were sent out in the boats in order to obtain fish for food and money. Thanks to its self-imposed isolation, drought, and most of the country's income going towards weapons rather than food, North Korea is in the middle of a food shortage. It's believed that Kim Jong-un has been increasing fishing quotas, thus forcing his people to work harder to obtain more fish and take more risks doing so.

    A North Korean news agency released a photo of the leader in 2015 happily touring a fishery and proudly commenting on the amount of food the fishermen were able to produce. In addition to food, fish are also a valuable export for the North Korean military, allowing them to get money to fund their country in spite of the international sanctions against them.

  • It's Also Possible The People On The Boats Were North Korean Defectors

    It's Also Possible The People On The Boats Were North Korean Defectors
    Video: YouTube

    Another theory about the ghost ship phenomenon is that the people on board were defectors attempting to flee North Korea. Nine people were rescued from a boat off the coast of northern Japan in 2011, when they lost their way trying to escape to South Korea, so the theory does have merit. In fact, North Korea has had around 30,000 defectors since the 1990s. They face extreme punishment if they are caught, such as hard labor, banishment, or even execution, as does anyone who is discovered helping or harboring the defectors.

    Taking one's chances in the Sea of Japan may have had less law enforcement presence than North Korean borders, but it has its own set of dangers. Although this is a valid theory, the fishermen idea has been more widely accepted.

  • North Korea Has Made No Comment On The Situation, And Japan Can't Just Send The Bodies Back

    North Korea Has Made No Comment On The Situation, And Japan Can't Just Send The Bodies Back
    Photo: The Presidential Press and Information Office / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    Thanks to North Korea's silence on the matter, there may never be an absolute explanation for the ghost ships. The notoriously closed-off country has made no comments about the issue. Because of this, it is basically impossible for the Japanese authorities to identify the bodies or notify their families back home in North Korea of their demise. Disposing of the boats and corpses has become a problem for Japan as well.

    Since Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic ties, there is no real channel available to either country to reach out to the other about the problem. Occasionally, the coast guard has just let the boats float until they can figure out what to do with them, usually opting to dismantle and burn them. In some cases, the bodies have been cremated and sent to a Japanese temple, forever to remain unidentified.

  • Similar Ghost Ships Have Been Discovered For The Last Few Years

    Similar Ghost Ships Have Been Discovered For The Last Few Years
    Video: YouTube

    The Japanese Coast Guard has only been keeping track of the ghost ships since 2011, but as of December 2015, 283 ghost ships had been found. Each year, authorities have discovered more than 40 ships either washed up or adrift in the Sea of Japan. The number is only rising.

    In 2017, 59 boats showed up on the Japanese coast. It's not known how long the ships had been lost at sea, but according to the decomposition of the bodies, it was at least a few months. The phenomenon is not limited to a single area either, as ghost ships have been discovered all along the western coast of Japan. Some Japanese residents have become so accustomed to the creepy occurrence that one retired fisherman said, "This isn't something new for us, so people are just saying 'oh no, not again.'"

  • Like Most Of The World, Japan Isn't Exactly Best Friends With North Korea

    Like Most Of The World, Japan Isn't Exactly Best Friends With North Korea
    Video: YouTube

    Although the Japanese Coast Guard has given a hand to many North Korean sea vessels, such as saving 26 people from a sinking cargo ship in early 2017, Japan and North Korea do not have any official diplomatic relations. North Korea has admittedly abducted Japanese citizens in the past, and the country's development of nuclear weapons is definitely a hot issue. In 2001, there was also a fight between an armed North Korean boat and the Japanese Coast Guard, resulting in 15 North Koreans dying after they refused to allow an inspection and blew themselves up.

    Although Japan isn't overly concerned that the ghost ships are the failed attempts of North Koreans sneaking into their country, they have been keeping a watchful eye on the sea and all ships that come across.