From the Flying Dutchman to the Mary Celeste, the world's oceans are rife with tales of ghostly ships manned by the phantoms of those who lost their life at sea.
The Japanese Coast Guard discovered the first boat in October, followed by a series of vessels in November. Several were washed up on the shore while others were adrift off the coast in the Sea of Japan.
At least some of the boats contained partially skeletonized remains. One boat carried six human skulls, in total, the remains of 20 bodies have been found so far. Japanese officials have been working to unravel the mystery of the boats but there have been few clues to work with.
Most assume the vessels came from North Korea and the scant evidence seems to support the idea. One of the boats had Korean lettering on its hull that translated to "Korean People's Army." In another of the vessels, a small scrap of material looks like it came from a North Korean flag.
Japanese maritime expert Yoshihiko Yamada has stated that the boats bear a "striking resemblance" to vessels used by defectors attempting to escape the repressive regime of North Korea. Other officials think the boats may be North Korean fishing boats that simply strayed off course. If that's the case, it's odd that so many of them would surface in the same period.
Whatever the truth behind these modern ghost ships turns out to be, it's a story of the tragic loss of human life, and a reminder of the power, danger and mystery of the open sea.