North Korean abduction 'hopes' dashed as fisherman's body found tangled in net
As the weeks and months passed after Shuji Koyama's fishing boat was found adrift in the Sea of Japan in June 2004, his family became increasingly convinced that he had become yet another victim of North Korea's abduction teams.
His wife put up posters in and around Niigata City asking for information, but she always refused to give up hope that Koyama was still alive. Being spirited away to North Korea would be a terrible fate, but it would at least mean that he was alive.
That last faint hope was dashed on Saturday when the skeletal remains of Koyama, who was 43 at the time of his disappearance, were found entangled in a 40-metre-long fishing net that had been removed when the boat was scrapped in 2005 and the net placed in storage.
Koyama's name had been on a list of 275 people that human rights activists in Japan believed may have been snatched by North Korean agents to train future generations of spies before they are infiltrated into Japan. The earliest unsolved disappearance on the list compiled by the Investigation Committee on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea (COMJAN) dates from 1948.
"The Sea of Japan is very close to the Korean peninsula and there have been a number of similar disappearances of boat crews in that area," Yuki Yakabe, a director of the organisation, told the South China Morning Post.
Koyama's name was added to the list at his wife's request the year after he disappeared.
Suspicions were further aroused when the ship's navigation logs were missing, although authorities here now believe that Koyama's death was a simple, tragic accident.
"It looks very much as if he was pulling in the net after he had finished fishing for the day, was perhaps thrown into the ocean and got caught up in it," Yakabe said.
Police said the body was still clothed in fishing overalls and gloves when it was found by workmen unravelling the net from the reel at a company that deals in second-hand boats and fishing equipment in Chiba prefecture.
Senior police visited Koyama's family and expressed regret for failing to find his remains at the time of his disappearance.
COMJAN is just one of a number of affiliated organisations in Japan dedicated to determining the fate of hundreds of missing Japanese nationals on the assumption that they were abducted by North Korea.
That assumption is not out of place given that North Korea has admitted abducting 13 Japanese, infamously including Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when she was seized as she walked home on the outskirts of Niigata city in November 1977, and taken to North Korea aboard a dinghy.
Yakabe said no decision had been taken on reassessing the names on its list given the discovery of Koyama's body.