Japan has come under fire for sending roughly 60 North Korean crew on board a fishing boat that sank after colliding with a Japanese patrol ship in the East Sea back to North Korea, in an apparent low-profile move which some say is intended to seek a North Korea-Japan summit without conditions attached.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when questioned by the lawmakers at a Diet session about the handling of the incident and why the crew were allowed to go back to the North without being detained, said that the authorities did not take enforcement measures as it was not confirmed whether the North Korean vessel was engaged in illegal fishing, NHK said Tuesday.
The public broadcaster of Japan had reported immediately after the incident that the rescued North Korean ship would be transferred to Japan for an investigation, citing a Japanese government official. However, such an investigation did not take place. It is an unusual move for Tokyo to not detain and return North Korean fishermen to their country despite a boat collision that happened inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party called in Fisheries Agency officials on Tuesday to question them about the incident, arguing that the officials should have investigated the case by bringing the fishermen in to the country and that sending them back right away is a low-profile attitude. The Mainichi Shimbun reported on the same day that the North may claim that the collision took place in North Korea’s EEZ and demand compensation for the damaged boat. The incident could spark another strife in an already sour relationship between the two countries, the newspaper added.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Akihiro Nishimura said in Tuesday’s press conference that Japan has lodged a protest with North Korea via the embassy in Beijing. Yet, the content of the complaint and North Korea’s response have not been disclosed. “Prime Minister Abe seems to be trying to downplay the incident and use it as a chance to resume dialogue with North Korea,” said a Japanese diplomatic source.