Police in Northern Japan have found eight men near a boat at a seaside marina who said they were from North Korea, and appear to be fishermen whose vessel ran into trouble, rather than defectors.

The men, who said they were North Koreans, appear to be fishermen whose wooden boat had trouble and went adrift, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a regular news conference today.

Asked if the possibility the men were spies had been ruled out, Suga said authorities were handling the matter carefully.

The incident comes at a time of rising tension over North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile Programmes after President Donald Trump redesignated the isolated nation a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the United States to levy further sanctions.