A boat carrying eight North Korean men has washed ashore in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Akita, police said Friday.
The men said they were fishing before the boat broke down, Hachiro Okonogi, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, told reporters. The police also said it is unlikely the men will seek asylum in Japan, while investigative sources said they are hoping to return home soon.
The government will "respond appropriately," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
The police received a call from a resident in the city of Yurihonjo around 11:30 p.m. Thursday about suspicious men on the sea coast. They later found the men, with a catch of squid, on the wooden boat at a nearby marina.
The boat had a plate bearing the word "Chongjin" -- the name of a city in northeastern North Korea -- in Hangul letters. Investigative sources said the men are believed to have left North Korea about a month ago.
The men had no life-threatening injuries, said the police, who took them into protective custody for questioning along with immigration officials.
The eight men told the police they had left North Korea for fishing but were cast adrift following an engine failure, the sources said. The local resident called the police after the men rang a doorbell late at night and spoke in an "incomprehensible" language.
Local residents expressed anxiety over the incident, while some said they were surprised the crew members reached Japan alive given the rough sea conditions.
"I was very surprised at the news. I heard an unidentified ship had arrived and I feel anxious," said an 84-year-old man.
A number of unidentified boats have been found on the Sea of Japan coast. Wooden boats bearing Hangul letters were found after drifting ashore last Sunday and Monday in Aomori Prefecture, north of Akita.
From Nov. 15 to 17, three North Korean men were rescued and seven bodies were recovered after two boats capsized off the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture.
In November 2015 a wooden boat drifted ashore in the city of Noshiro in Akita and skeletal remains of two men were found inside the vessel and nearby.