The 14 dead men, skull and skeletal remains stacked in a boat found floating four miles off Belle Garden in Tobago last Friday started a journey from the north African country of Mauritania, police said yesterday.

“The boat (registration AG 231) according to our information was believed to have been stolen and investigations are under way in that country with respect to that boat,” Assistant Commissioner of Police William Nurse said during a news conference in the sister island yesterday.

He said autopsies on the bodies started yesterday at the Scarborough Mortuary to help determine how the men died.

“The post-mortem examinations are being conducted by Dr Eastlyn McDonald Burris, the forensic pathologist. We expect to finish that by today and, given the level of decomposition, we are not sure that we would be able to get a definite cause of death. It may be dependent on a toxicology report. If that is the case, we will wait on that before making a pronouncement,” Nurse told reporters.

It has not been determined if the men found dead on the vessel were citizens of Mauritania.

“We cannot say whether the individual bodies were… citizens of Mauritania. What we will do is the best way to respond to that is to do cadaver fingerprints and having done that we might have secured identity,” Nurse said.

He said a multi-agency approach with collaboration among Tobago police, Interpol, the Ministry of Works, Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs and Caricom will have to take place.

“Our Cyber Unit have been able to do some work in respect to the cellphone that was found on the boat and it confirmed that cellphone was registered in Mauritania as well. We are trying through the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs to make connections with that country to see whether or not an investigation has in fact started there, and how far it has reached. So this would require collaboration between Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritania,” Nurse said.

Minister saddened

Contacted for comment yesterday, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne stated: “I have joined in expressing sadness at the most unfortunate circumstances that would have resulted in the bodies that were discovered off Tobago. The ocean is a source of life and of livelihoods for many, but it is also sometimes the site of terrible tragedy.”

He said investigations into the discovery of the bodies were ongoing.

“The Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs continues to work closely with the Ministry of National Security and the (Trinidad and Tobago Police Service) in their pursuit of all relevant information and details on the origin and circumstances of the deceased and the vessel on which they were found,” Browne said.