Ukishima Maru likely contained explosives

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Ukishima Maru likely contained explosives

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A Japanese ship, whose appearance is similar to the Ukishima Maru. [Korean memorial association on the Ukishima explosion]

Historians and citizens alike are shocked by recent evidence that the Ukishima Maru, the Japanese vessel that was to carry thousands of Korean forced laborers home near the end of the Second World War, had bombs inside it when it exploded and sank.

At the time, the Japanese Navy reported that the ship exploded because it disturbed a mine under the sea placed there by U.S. forces during the war.

There was no mention of bombs existing inside the vessel until now.

A Korean memorial association on the Ukishima explosion announced on Monday that it retrieved internal documents by the Japanese government that prove the Ukishima Maru had bombs on board and other explosives at the time of its mysterious explosion on Aug. 24, 1945.

“Until now,” said Kim Moon-gil, an advisor of the memorial association, “there has been no evidence pointing to the fact that the Ukishima Maru was carrying explosives at the time of the incident.”

Kim received the documents from a Japanese citizen, who reportedly acquired them from the Japanese Ministry of Defense. The documents in question are presumed to have been written by a navy official to the captain of the Ukishima Maru on Aug. 22, 1945. It directs the captain to throw all explosives aboard the vessel into the sea if the ship had already set sail, or to place them somewhere on land if it has not yet done so.

Experts say this proves the existence of bombs inside the vessel.

The vessel is presumed to have set sail that day without having discarded the explosives on land. In two days, it reached the waters near Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, and exploded.

The Japanese government recorded that 3,725 Koreans were on board, of whom 524 died, while 25 out of the 255 Japanese navy officials aboard the ship died.

But Korean academics estimate the number of Korean casualties to stretch up to 5,000, citing studies that say more than 9,000 Koreans were engaged in forced labor in Japan at the time. Survivors of the explosion have also said there were some 7,500 to 8,000 Koreans on board the ship.

The memorial association is questioning whether Japanese navy officials intentionally bombed the vessel carrying thousands of Koreans back to Busan, many of them returning after their forced labor in Japan during its colonial rule over Korea.

“There has been no eye-witness account of Japanese navy officials throwing bombs into the sea,” Kim said. “But there are people who say they saw some navy officials jump into the sea before the explosion, which makes it probable that the detonation was a deliberate plan by the Japanese military.”

“The fact that only 25 out of 255 Japanese navy officials on board died in the incident also incites strong suspicion,” said Kim Yeong-ju, an executive director of the memorial association.

The association holds a ceremony to remember the deceased every year in Busan on Aug. 24.

Although the sinking is a difficult incident for many to forget, given that the Ukishima Maru was to be the first ship to bring home Koreans from Japan, investigations into the incident have been painfully slow and unyielding.

Korea’s national investigation into the incident from 2005 ended without a result in 2010.

BY HWANG SUN-YOON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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