TOKYO — A large North Korean fishing trawler collided with a Japanese patrol ship within Japan’s exclusive economic zone on Monday, throwing dozens of North Korean crew members overboard and drawing renewed warnings from Tokyo about illegal fishing in its waters.
According to Japan’s Coast Guard, the North Korean fishing boat struck a patrol ship for the Japanese fisheries agency on Monday morning in the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, about 220 miles northwest of the Noto Peninsula in central Japan.
About 60 members of the fishing crew were rescued, the Coast Guard said, adding that all of the North Koreans were believed to be accounted for. The fishing ship sank about 15 minutes after the collision.
The episode came less than a week after North Korea launched a missile that landed off Japan’s coast, also in its exclusive economic zone. Japan has tried to engage North Korea in talks on its nuclear program, but has so far been rebuffed.
When asked if the North Korean vessel hit the Japanese patrol ship on purpose, Naoki Okada, the deputy chief cabinet secretary, told reporters that the cause of the crash was still uncertain. “The cause of the collision is the most crucial part, and we are currently under investigation, so I’d like to refrain from commenting,” he said.
No injuries were reported on the Japanese ship. According to the Coast Guard, the rescued crew members were taken to another North Korean ship.
Japan’s fisheries agency has repeatedly warned North Korean ships that have sailed into the country’s waters that their squid fishing operations are illegal.
Over all, the number of North Korean vessels warned by Japanese patrol boats has been declining, according to the Coast Guard. Between May and September of this year, the Coast Guard warned 983 North Korean ships to leave Japanese waters, compared with 1,235 in the same period last year.
Speaking before Parliament, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the government would “continue to resolutely deal with illegal fishing by foreign fishing vessels” in Japan’s exclusive economic zone “as we did before.”
Satoshi Kuwahara, the chief of Japan’s fisheries agency, told reporters that its patrol boats routinely set off water cannons or flash electric bulletin board messages to ships that illegally enter Japan’s waters. The collision on Monday occurred while the Japanese patrol boat was sending out such warnings.
Analysts said North Korea tended not to abide by international laws when conducting activities like fishing. “North Korea hasn’t joined the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and in many cases, they don’t follow rules that are kept among other countries,” said Satoru Miyamoto, a professor of political science and economics at Seigakuin University.
North Korean fishing boats often wander into waters near Russia, China and South Korea, said Robert E. Kelly, a professor of international relations at Pusan National University in Busan, South Korea.
“My sense is it’s probably just a typical North Korean ‘the rules don’t apply to us’ sort of approach,” said Mr. Kelly, who noted that North Korea breaks international norms by counterfeiting money, engaging in drugs and arms trading, and abusing workers.
“I think North Korea puts a lot of stake in its reputation and they want to be understood as reckless because they believe that encourages the countries around them to treat them gingerly and cautiously,” Mr. Kelly added.
Many of North Korea’s fishing vessels are operated by its military, and squid is a lucrative catch. Although United Nations sanctions prohibit North Korea from selling seafood, some analysts said that buyers in China might be quietly purchasing fish hauls.
“They can earn a lot with squid,” said Jiro Ishimaru, an independent journalist who covers North Korea and heads the Osaka office of Asia Press. He said that since North Korea’s fishing crews had most likely depleted stocks near their own coast, they would be venturing farther out for catches.
Fish is one of the few sources of protein for most North Koreans, Mr. Miyamoto said. For years, North Korean fishing boats have often run aground on Japan’s coastline, either empty or carrying the dead bodies of their crew.