At least five decomposing bodies have been recovered from a ramshackle wooden boat found drifting near a rocky island in northern Japan, local media report.
According to Japan Times, the 13-meter boat was found by fishermen off Sado Island around 9 a.m. Wednesday. The boat is said to have faint Korean characters written on it. Officials said they haven't yet identified the nationality of the victims, since the bodies are in an advanced state of decay.
Japanese police said the bodies appear to be adults. Trash and belongings were also found inside the boat. NBC News reports the vessel appears to be a fishing boat from the Korean peninsula, but that no engines or propellers were found attached to it.
Video obtained by CNN shows bodies in bags being removed from the decrepit vessel. According to CNN, police would not say exactly how many bodies were found in the boat, adding that some had decomposed to the point where only skeletons remained.
According to Japan Today, the most common route for defectors is through China. Although it is not common, North Koreans have attempted to defect by boat in the past.
In September 2011, nine North Koreans were discovered drifting in a boat about 15 miles off the coast of Japan's Noto peninsula. They resettled in South Korea after three weeks of questioning in a Nagasaki-area immigration facility.
Other incidents of defection from North Korea by sea occurred in 2006 and 1987, CNN reported.
While sea defections are uncommon, the AFP reports that at least three North Korean soldiers have fled their country over its heavily fortified border with South Korea since August of this year.