Brazilian police investigating the grim discovery of a boat full of corpses say the dead were likely African migrants from Mali and Mauritania.

Fishermen off Brazil’s northern coastal state of Pará found the boat adrift Saturday in the Atlantic Ocean. Brazil’s Federal police said in a statement late Monday it had recovered nine dead in total.

“Documents and objects found near the bodies indicate that the victims were migrants from the African continent, from the region of Mauritania and Mali,” the statement read. Police added that other nationalities could be among the deceased.

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The roughly 39-foot-long white and blue canoe-shaped boat found in Brazil shares the same characteristics of Mauritanian fishing pirogues frequently used by West African migrants and refugees fleeing to Spain’s Canary Islands, suggesting Brazil was probably not their destination.

Migrant boat found in Brazil

Police help move a boat that was carrying decomposing corpses to the Vila do Castelo port in Braganca, Brazil, early Monday, April 15, 2024. Security forces and forensics were dispatched to the area after fishermen reported on Saturday spotting a boat with decomposing corpses off the coast of Para state. (AP Photo/Raimundo Pacco)

The Atlantic route from West Africa to the European Union territory is one of the most dangerous in the world. Boats that miss their destination can be swept away by Atlantic trade winds and currents from east to west, drifting for months. Migrants aboard often die of dehydration and malnutrition. Others have also been known to jump into the ocean out of desperation.

An Associated Press investigation published last year revealed that in 2021, at least seven boats from northwest Africa had been found in the Caribbean and Brazil, all carrying dead bodies.

A 500% spike in migration from the northwest coast of Africa to Spain this year has alarmed European authorities. Despite a 210 million euro deal signed in February between the European Union and Mauritania, the majority of departures have taken place from the West African nation.

While more than 13,000 migrants have reached the Canaries so far in 2024, according to Spain’s interior ministry, hundreds others have been reported missing. In Mauritania, families have even set up a “national commission” charged with looking for the disappeared migrants. They have been following news of the boat found in Brazil anxiously, according to families who contacted AP.

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Brazilian federal police say they are still working to identify the bodies and the cause of death, a difficult task given the advanced state of decomposition they were found in.

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