Battle of Amami-Ōshima

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Battle of Amami-Ōshima
(Spy Ship Incident in the Southwest Sea of Kyūshū)
North-Korea spy-vessel 2.jpg
An anti-aircraft gun that was mounted on the North Korean spy vessel
Date 22 December 2001
Location Off the coast of Amami-Ōshima, in the East China Sea
Result Japanese victory
North Korea North Korea Japan Japan
1 naval trawler

4 patrol boats

  • Amami
  • Kirishima
  • Inasa
  • Mizuki
Casualties and losses
15 killed
1 naval trawler sunk
3 wounded
1 patrol boat damaged

The Battle of Amami-Ōshima, also known as the Spy Ship Incident in the Southwest Sea of Kyūshū (九州南西海域工作船事件, kyūshū-nansei-kaiiki-kōsakusen-jiken), was a six-hour confrontation between the Japanese Coast Guard and an armed North Korean vessel, which took place near the island of Amami-Ōshima, in the East China Sea. The encounter ended in the sinking of the North Korean vessel, which the Japanese authorities later announced was determined to have been a spy craft.[1][2] The encounter took place outside Japanese territorial waters, but within the exclusive economic zone, an area extending 200 miles (320 km) from Japanese land, within which Japan can claim exclusive rights to fishing and mineral resources.


An unidentified ship was spotted in Japanese waters on 21 December 2001. The armed trawler was detected by a communications station in Kikaijima, Kagoshima, which was under control of the Japanese Defense Intelligence Headquarters.[3] In 1999, another North Korean vessel encountered by the Japanese Coast Guard was claimed by Japan to have been a spy craft, though North Korea denied it;[citation needed] other incidents have occurred involving illegal fishing and drug trafficking. With the North Korean vessel's intentions unclear, the Japanese coast guard decided to intercept it.


Dual hatch found in the stern of the North Korean spy trawler.

Early the following morning, the ship was chased by four Japan Coast Guard vessels, who ordered it to halt, and fired 25 warning shots upon the ship when those orders were ignored.[4] A six-hour firefight ensued, in which over 1,000 machine gun rounds were fired by both sides;[5] the North Korean crew were said to have wielded shoulder-held rocket launchers.[6] The North Korean trawler was meanwhile hit by a number of 20 mm rounds.[7][8] Several explosions not directly related to Japanese attacks rocked the ship before it was sunk. According to The Guardian, "fifteen survivors were seen clinging to a buoy in heavy seas, but the Japanese ships were ordered to ignore them because of fears that they would use force to resist capture".[7] Two bodies were recovered, thirteen more persons were declared missing and presumed dead several days later.

The Special Boarding Unit was mobilized to board the ship, but did not do so as they had to wait for official orders from the Japanese Defense Agency. The ship sank before such orders arrived.[9]

The engagement was recorded on video from Japanese coast guard vessels.[10]


In 2003 the trawler was raised by the Japanese to confirm her origin and intentions. Inspection of the hull determined she was of North Korean origin and most likely an infiltration and spy vessel. It was revealed that the vessel was camouflaged as a Chinese or Japanese fishing boat and that she could go 33 knots, far faster than any commercial trawler. The ship had also a hidden double hatch in the stern to be used as an exit door for speedboats. After the inspections were deemed complete the hull was displayed at the Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama in Yokohama, where she has become a popular tourist attraction.[11]


  1. ^ "Japan announces sunken boat was N. Korean spy ship". BNET. 7 October 2002. Retrieved 29 January 2009. 
  2. ^ "Japan says 'spy ship' fired rockets". BBC. 25 December 2001. Retrieved 29 January 2009. 
  3. ^ "Japan's Secret SIGINT Organizations: Focusing On North Korea". Archived from the original on 15 September 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2008. 
  4. ^ "Japan fires on 'intruding' boat". BBC News. 22 December 2001. Retrieved 29 January 2009. 
  5. ^ James Brooke (25 December 2001). "Japan Says a Mystery Boat Fired Rockets at Its Ships". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2009. 
  6. ^ "North Korea's espionage operations in Japan". Japanese National Police Agency. Archived from the original on 23 March 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Japan defiant over boat sinking by Jonathan Watts. The Guardian (London), 24 December 2001. Retrieved on 7 October 2011.
  8. ^ "Suspected NK Spy Ship Sunk in East China Sea". The Chosun Ilbo, 23 December 2011. Retrieved on 7 October 20.11
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 December 2005. Retrieved 2005-12-01. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ McDonald, Scott (2007). Propaganda and information warfare in the twenty-first century: altered images and deception operations. Taylor & Francis, p. 104. ISBN 0-415-77145-5