N Korean defectors found off Japan coast
Tokyo - Nine people who say they are from North Korea arrived on Tuesday in a black wooden boat off the western Japanese coast in what authorities suspect is a rare defection from the communist nation to Japan.
A fisherman contacted authorities after spotting the unfamiliar vessel in waters near the Noto peninsula, which juts into the Sea of Japan.
The three men, three women and three children found on the black wooden boat told Japanese coast guard officials they came from North Korea.
No one required immediate medical attention.
The vessel is about 8m long and marked with Korean characters, said Daisuke Takahashi, a spokesperson with the Japan Coast Guard.
The coast guard said it was investigating the boat and its passengers, and would likely tow the vessel to port later on Tuesday, Takahashi said.
North Korean defectors typically cross over the North's porous border with China or drift in boats over the Yellow Sea dividing line between North and South Korea, but they rarely come as far as Japan.
Defections are a sensitive matter between the Koreas, which are still technically at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Earlier this year, North Korea lashed out at the South when four of 31 North Koreans on a boat that drifted into southern waters refused to return home.
The North said the four were held against their will.
More than 21 000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the Korean War, according to South Korean government data.