Japan’s coastguard said they had found three people adrift in a small boat off the country’s west coast with media reporting they are from North Korea but are not defectors.
Korean script was visible on the small wooden boat, the official said, while noting the agency had not confirmed where the three had come from. No further details were available immediately.
Public broadcaster NHK reported they were all males and quoted an official as saying they had come from North Korea. “We started drifting after the engine of the boat broke down. But we did not intend to defect,” the boat people were quoted as saying.
The report could not be immediately confirmed by the coastguard’s press office.
Earlier media reports said the three might be the first defectors from North Korea reaching Japan since the death of Kim Jong-Il in December.
The death of the leader in the reclusive state has sparked fears of an influx of refugees, although Japan places tight restrictions on immigrants and asylum-seekers.