Japan Releases Video of Collision with North Korean Trawler

Image courtesy Japan Coast Guard

Published Oct 22, 2019 1:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Japanese Coast Guard has released a video of the collision between the fishery patrol vessel Okuni and a North Korean fishing vessel in the Sea of Japan on October 7. 

The video shows that the Okuni was overtaking the North Korean vessel on the trawler's port side. After the trawler failed to comply with warnings to depart the Japanese EEZ, Okuni's crew directed a remotely-controlled water cannon at the trawler to underline the message. As the Okuni drew alongside the trawler at close range, the trawler appeared to turn hard to port, putting its port side across the Okuni's bow. The two vessels collided within about 15 seconds of the apparent start of the turn. 

After the collision, the two vessels quickly separated, and the trawler continued to make way. Its crew gathered on deck and appeared to make attempts at damage control, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. The trawler listed to port and quickly sank with its starboard side up, leaving its crew in the water. 

Once the trawler had sunk, the Okuni launched a response operation with a rescue boat and an inflated life raft. All of the fishing vessel's crewmembers were accounted for, and they were taken aboard and repatriated by another nearby North Korean vessel. 

North Korea has accused Japan of deliberately sinking the trawler, a claim that Japanese officials have fiercely denied. Japan's legislature also demanded more information about the incident, ultimately leading the Japanese government to release the footage in order to demonstrate that the Okuni was operating "appropriately."

The collision occurred at a fertile bank in the Sea of Japan known as Yamato-tai, which is located about 150-190 nm off the town of Wajima on Honshu's east coast. The area sees frequent incursions by North Korean fishing vessels targeting squid, and Japan has mounted a large-scale effort to prevent poaching. Over the course of the summer season, Japanese patrol vessels have ordered about 500 foreign poaching vessels to leave Japan's EEZ, including 300 in the same area. Japanese patrol boats have occasionally used water cannon to drive off North Korean fishermen in previous encounters.