In this file photo people walk into shallow waters as they attempt to cross the border from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. AFP
Spain is one of the main gateways for migrants to reach Europe. Tens of thousands also try each year from the coastlines of other North African countries, including Libya where coast guards on Saturday rescued hundreds of migrants.
The 45 passengers on board the ill-fated Moroccan boat were attempting to reach the Canary Islands' main city of Las Palmas when it hit a rock and sank Friday, "10 minutes after" embarking near the town of Mirleft, according to online news service Hespress.
About half of them, 24, were rescued from the water, the Arabic-language site reported.
One woman was among the dead, and eight of the passengers remained unaccounted for.
AFP contacted Moroccan authorities to confirm the deaths but received no immediate comment.
Morocco's 2M news service reported the passengers had used an inflatable boat which was quickly "damaged and the victims found themselves in the middle of the waves".
Passage on the vessel had cost between 20,000 and 25,000 Moroccan dirhams ($1,900 to $2,400), Hespress said.
Located at Africa's northwestern tip, Morocco is a transit country for many migrants, particularly sub-Saharan Africans. Fleeing poverty and violence, they seek to reach Europe from Morocco's Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts.
Others attempt the crossing from Morocco's neighbours further east on the Mediterranean.