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Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast

By The Siberian Times reporter
22 December 2021

Ghost flotilla is the only memorial to dozens of North Korean squid poachers who never returned to their home waters.

'Debris of their boats - sometimes with little details like a piece of bright oilcloth with naive flowers, added by somebody as a loving, cosy touch - spoke much louder about those people, forced to poach in foreign waters.’ Pictures: Natalya Bulkina

Photographer Natalya Bulkina travelled to the place locals call the Pirates Graveyard - a long stretch of deserted beach several hours away from Vladivostok, close to where the borders of Russia, North Korea and China nearly join each other. 

This is one of the areas in the Far East of Russia where North Korean poachers’ wooden boats end up after getting hit by storms. 

Sometimes they carry exhausted fishermen, quite often they are thrown ashore with their bodies on board - or empty. 

‘This story gave me a strong feeling of despair, audacity, risk and fear, as I was taking pictures of what was left of the poachers’ boats. Standing close to them you just about guess the drama of these peopleб who went into the sea in such flimsy vessels,’ Natalya told The Siberian Times.  

Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast
Ghost flotilla is the only memorial to dozens of North Korean squid poachers who never returned to their home waters. Pictures: Natalya Bulkina

North Korean poachers started to appear in the territorial waters of Russia and Japan several years ago; usually they fish during the squid catching season between June and October. 

Hundreds of them get caught by Russian border patrols, go to court and get deported. 

There are no statistics in Russia on how many poachers die every season, or the number of boats end up on the Russian shore (Japan gathers the statistics on the North Korean ghost boats, and their fragments). 

North Korean poachers use drift netting - the fishing method banned in Russia since 2015. These nets are often called ‘the wall of death’, because they trap and kill marine mammals and sea birds. 

‘It took me two years to film this project. I never knew for sure what happened to the North Korean crews,’ said Natalya.

‘Somebody told me guys might face execution after they are deported. 

‘In a way, I thought debris of their boats - sometimes with little details like a piece of bright oilcloth with naive flowers, added by somebody as a loving, cosy touch - spoke much louder about those people, forced to poach in foreign waters.’

Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast. Pictures: Natalya Bulkina

Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast


Photographer captures eerie graveyard of North Korean schooners scattered along the Russian coast

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