An overnight boat packed with sleeping tourists sank early Thursday in Vietnam's scenic Ha Long Bay, killing 11 foreigners, including vacationers from the U.S, Australia and Britain, and their Vietnamese guide, officials said.
Two tourists from Sweden and one from Japan have also been confirmed dead, officials said, while nine foreigners and six locals were rescued from the chilly water by other tour boats anchored nearby. Survivors were rushed to a hospital as teams scoured the area for other passengers.
Those rescued reported seeing a plank of the wooden live-aboard ship ripping away, followed by gushing water inundating the boat and quickly pulling it down around 5 a.m. near Titov island, said Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province.
"Crew members tried to stop the water from coming in and alerted the tourists who were sleeping, but the water came in and the boat sank quickly," he said. "All of the 12 people who died were in the cabins."
There were 27 people, including six crew members, aboard the boat owned by Truong Hai Company and all have been accounted for, Thin said. It was anchored alongside dozens of other cruise boats, and weather conditions were calm at the time of the incident.
Twelve bodies have been found, including those of tourists from the U.S., Australia and Britain, said Ngo Van Hung, director of Ha Long Bay's management board. The body of a Vietnamese tour guide was also recovered, and all of the dead have been sent to Bai Chay Hospital for identification.
Two Swedish women in their early 20s from the Varmland area were among the victims, according to the foreign ministry in Stockholm.
Officials from the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi were en route to the scene after being alerted that a Japanese citizen was among the dead, said embassy spokesman Junichi Takahashi.
The U.S. Embassy said two of its nationals were killed, and the Swiss Embassy said they were working to confirm a report that one of their citizens was among the dead.
Giang Quoc Duy, deputy director of the hospital, said three foreign tourists, including men from the U.S. and France and a woman from Switzerland, were admitted to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
"They were in a panic," Duy said. "They were given first aid treatment and have already returned to their hotels."
Online newspaper Dan Tri quoted Do Thong, provincial vice governor, as saying the tourists on board were from 11 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, Denmark and Sweden.
Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam's most popular tourism attractions, located near the Chinese border in the Gulf of Tonkin about three hours east of the capital, Hanoi. Many visitors opt to stay overnight on boats with sleeping cabins to cruise the picturesque bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site dotted with limestone formations.
More than 100 cruise boats are licensed to offer overnight service, and last year the area received 5.4 million visitors, nearly half of them foreigners, according to government websites.
The bay has seen boats go down in the past. In 2009, a tour boat sank during a storm, killing five, including three foreign vacationers. In 2006, a powerful wind storm capsized several boats, killing 13 people, though no tourists were among the dead. In 2002, strong winds capsized two tourist boats, killing several foreigners.