A mystery ball has washed up on a beach in Japan, sparking consternation and conspiracy theories after police imposed a no-go zone around the object and called in a bomb disposal team.
Initial speculation suggested that the unknown object on Enshu beach in the city of Hamamatsu, some 130 miles south west of Tokyo, was an unexploded sea mine.
Local media broadcasted footage of police in protective gear gingerly examining the heavy object, which is 1.5 metres in diameter and made of metal, with orangey-brown rusted patches on it.
But other theories soon exploded online.
‘Monster movies usually start like this’
Some suggested it was part of an espionage plot against Japan by a hostile nation, possibly linked to the recent reports of Chinese spy balloons spotted – and shot down – over the United States and Canada.
There have been at least three similar reports of what are believed to have been Chinese surveillance balloons over Japan in recent years.
“I want the authorities to have a stronger sense of danger”, said a post on the Yahoo! Japan News site. “They need to investigate exactly what it is for as we cannot rule out the possibility that it is from China or North Korea and has military applications”.
Others claimed it could be a UFO that had crash-landed on the beach, or perhaps even the sphere at the centre of the popular Dragon Ball manga series.
“Monster movies usually start like this,” said one person. Another contributor joked it was just the moon that had fallen out of the sky.
Speaking on Tuesday, even local coastguard officials seemed perplexed at the mystery ball, with one saying: “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
It was not until later in the day that police were able to conduct X-rays of the metal sphere.
The images revealed that the object was hollow and would not explode, leading police to eventually formally identify the object – as a buoy.
Attempt to avert clashes between Japan and China
Nariyuki Takahashi, the head of the Hamamatsu city engineering department, told FNN Prime that the sphere was not of a Japanese design, but had two loops for tethers and was clearly a flotation device used for maritime industrial purposes.
Local officials are now working to extricate the buoy, which is estimated to weigh more than 660lbs, and transport it to a city facility.
If the owner cannot be traced, Mr Takahashi said, it will be scrapped.
It came as defence officials from Japan and China were holding discussions on Tuesday on the creation of a hotline to avert accidental clashes between the two sides’ militaries.
Japan opened the meeting by requesting that China stop deliberately flying aircraft – including balloons – into Japanese airspace.
Tokyo has also registered diplomatic protests with Beijing in the past after Chinese naval craft entered Japanese waters, apparently on missions to map underwater geographic formations and to test the reactions of the Japanese military and coastguard.