SEOUL – Two crew members of a North Korean cargo ship missing since December last year were found dead by the Japanese Coast Guard this weekend, a Tokyo-based news agency said on Monday.
The partially decomposed body of one sailor, still wearing a North Korean loyalty badge, was found in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture on Saturday, and was reportedly in possession of $290 in five U.S. dollar bills.
Japanese Coast Guard crew found the second body the next day in the waters surrounding the Oga Peninsula, Japanese news agency Kyodo reported. The deceased North Korean crew member was found with a metal tube containing images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
Japanese media reports did not disclose further details regarding the images of the two North Korean leaders, but superficial analysis would suggest they were the official portraits of the late leaders from the ship’s bridge (the crew member may have saved the portraits out of loyalty, or for his own security).
The missing DPRK-flagged vessel was the 131m-long Taegakbong cargo ship, operated by North Korean shipping company Tonghae Sonbak Co., an import/export office based in Pyongyang’s Central District (중구역), Changwang-dong (창광동). Japanese authorities were able to link the two bodies to the Taegakbong after the ship’s name was found printed on identical life jackets worn by each crew member.
The Taegakbong went adrift after an engine failure that resulted in a total electrical blackout and loss of control, Maritime Bulletin website ODIN reported on 17 December. 24 crew were said to have escaped the distressed vessel on a life raft, and North Korean authorities were reportedly informed of the incident by a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Vladivostok.
Map showing last known position of the Taegakbong, its managing office in Pyongyang, and the location of the two deceased crew members.
The vessel’s last known position (N41.29, E131.02 – marked with a warning triangle, above) was in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), approximately 57 nautical miles due East of the North Korean coast. The ship’s cargo and destination is still unclear.
The Taegakbong was based in Nampo, a port town in the mouth of the Taedong River, on North Korea’s West coast, and is still publicly listed as being “under repair”.
Update 0059KST: Korean added to location of Tonghae Sonbak Company, Pyongyang.