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This North Korean boat washed ashore in Yurihonjo, in Japan's Akita Prefecture, on Nov. 23. Such vessels are clearly not designed for long voyages.   © Kyodo

Spike in North Korean 'ghost boats' signals deepening desperation

Midnight arrivals and an island hut raid put Japan on high alert

KOJI MURAKOSHI, Nikkei staff writer and KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei Asian Review chief desk editor | North Korea

TOKYO -- On a chilly November night, half an hour before midnight, the local police in the northern Japanese prefecture of Akita received an emergency call. The caller, a woman, said there were suspicious foreigners on her front porch.

When officers arrived at the house in the city of Yurihonjo, they found eight men. Later, the men said they were from North Korea and had left port a month earlier. They said they washed ashore after their engine broke down.

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