A boat carrying decomposing corpses is lifted to shore by...

A boat carrying decomposing corpses is lifted to shore by authorities at the Vila do Castelo port in Braganca, Brazil, overnight 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. Credit: AP/Raimundo Pacco

BARCELONA, Spain — Brazilian police investigating the grim discovery of a boat with several decomposing bodies say they 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 on Monday they had recovered nine dead in all.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials said the boat is believed to have been carrying at least 25 people, based on the number of raincoats found inside the vessel.

“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 earlier statement read. Police added that other nationalities could be among the deceased.

The roughly 12-meter (39-foot) white and blue canoe-shaped boat shares the same characteristics of Mauritanian fishing boats known as pirogues, frequently used by West African migrants and refugees fleeing to Spain’s Canary Islands, suggesting Brazil was probably not their destination.

The bodies were found in an advanced state of decomposition, authorities had said.

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.

A boat carrying decomposing corpses is lifted to shore by...

A boat carrying decomposing corpses is lifted to shore by authorities at 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. Credit: AP/Raimundo Pacco

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.

On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities said that a preliminary analysis of documents found aboard indicated the boat departed Mauritania after Jan. 17.

José Roberto Peres, the Federal Police chief in Para state, told a local TV network that the estimated distance from where its passengers may have lost their way is some 4,800 kilometers (nearly 3,000 miles) from Para's coast. Forensic examination of both the bodies and the vessel are still underway, he said.

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.

Police help move a boat carrying decomposing corpses to the...

Police help move a boat 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. Credit: AP/Raimundo Pacco

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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Associated Press writer Gabriela Sá Pessoa in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

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