A North Korean crewed fishing boat was recaptured Friday, the coast guard said, after attempting to escape from Japanese custody in Hakodate, where it was held while authorities investigated the crew's possible involvement in plundering a remote Japanese fishing hut.
The North Korean boat was on the loose for about an hour after its crew started its engine at around 3:25 p.m. and cut ropes tethering it to a coast guard vessel near Hakodate port, the coast guard said.
The North Korean boat has been held since Nov. 30, two days after being spotted washed ashore on a Sea of Japan island off the town of Matsumae, Hokkaido.
The crew of the impounded fishing vessel is suspected of causing damage and stealing property valued at nearly 8 million yen ($70,400) when they had taken refuge on the uninhabited island, according to a local fishermen's union.
The 10 North Koreans are believed to have destroyed a power generator and a boiler at a refuge hut on the island and stolen electronic appliances and other items, the sources said.
They stripped the generator for its parts and removed a door knob from the hut where they took shelter due to bad weather.
Another generator at a different hut, used to supply water and electricity to the refuge hut, is missing, the sources said.
The items the North Koreans are suspected of stealing include a television, a motorcycle and a solar panel.
The fishermen have told Japan Coast Guard officials that they left the port of Chongjin in northeastern North Korea in September to go squid fishing in the Sea of Japan before their steering wheel failed about a month ago.
One of the crew, who complained of stomach pains and was admitted to a hospital in Hakodate on Monday, was transferred Friday to a hospital in Sapporo for security reasons, according to the coast guard.
The man is likely to be hospitalized for some time as he has a gastric ulcer.
The other nine crew members remain aboard the wooden boat.