FLASHBACK: A backhoe pulls the boat on which 14 bodies were found ashore at Back Bay, Belle Gardens, Tobago.

Loyse Vincent

Tobago police have made some headway into solving the mystery surrounding the discovery of 14 human bodies and other human remains found on a fishing boat drifting four miles off Belle Garden last week. Fishermen in the area observed the boat drifting towards land Friday morning and upon closer investigation observed human remains on board. Senior police officials hosted a news conference yesterday where the head of Tobago Police ACP William Nurse revealed that the origin of the vessel was traced to a country in northwest Africa, called the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

“Through collaborations with the Institute of Marine Affairs, we have learnt that the vessel was reported stolen in Mauritania.”

According to ACP Nurse, a cell phone found on the vessel also provided the missing link for the cybercrime unit, which revealed that the “cell phone was registered in Mauritania.”

Guardian Media’s Weather Anchor Kalain Hosein provided a possible theory of how the vessel made its way to this country.

According to his theory, the vessel would have entered an extensive high-pressure system in the Atlantic Basin called the Subtropical Gyre, which is centred near Bermuda.

After being first picked up by the Canary Current from Mauritania, it may have drifted south and west away from Western Africa to the Cape Verde Islands.

However, if the boat got caught in the Northern Equatorial Current, it would have taken a direct path from the Cape Verde Islands to the Caribbean, ending north of Trinidad and Tobago.

However, given its sighting off Guyana in February, it’s possible that the vessel lost the influence of the Canary Current, before being caught on the Counter Equatorial Current, causing the vessel to travel further south until it reached the South Equatorial Current, taking it from the Gulf of Guinea, passing the north coasts of Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, and finally, east of Trinidad and towards Tobago.

Forensic Pathologist Dr Eastlyn McDonald Burris began the autopsies yesterday and the process should be completed today. However, due to the advanced state of decomposition of the remains, authorities may have to depend on a toxicology report or other methods to ascertain the identities of the persons found on the boat.

“The best way to do all that is to do cadaveral fingerprinting and that is the best way to determine the identities whether known or unknown and in collaboration with those agencies we may be able to come up with the specific name as per the fingerprints because there are no two persons in the world with the same fingerprint.”

While several fishermen and residents of Belle Garden have publicly appealed to authorities to have the vessel removed or destroyed due to the smell and nature of its contents, ACP Nurse said the vessel will be salvaged and returned to its owner once identified.

However, health and safety standards at the area have been addressed.

“On Sunday the boat and surrounding area was sanitized I was there to supervise the process myself, the boat has also be covered with a tarpaulin and secured so we have ensured that all health and safety standards have been met.”

While there were several other items found on the vessel, police say they are “still sifting through” the items to gain more information as the items were damaged as a result of being exposed to the elements.