Twelve people, most of them foreigners, drowned Thursday when their tour boat suddenly sank while they slept in Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s top tourist destinations, officials said.
Visitors from the United States, Sweden, Russia, Britain, Japan, France and Switzerland were killed, the government said, describing it as a rare accident.
A 32-year-old Australian was among the dead, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported, saying a 36-year-old man also from Australia was rescued.
Another survivor recounted a frantic attempt to escape from below deck as the vessel went down abruptly before dawn in calm weather on the picturesque bay, renowned for its striking limestone towers and emerald waters.
“Oh my God… The ship is sinking. We need to get off!” George Fosmire, a 23-year-old American, remembered his girlfriend warning after the listing ship tipped her out of bed in their cabin.
Fosmire, his voice breaking, said he feared his girlfriend and another young American sharing their cabin did not escape the rushing waters. The United States embassy in Hanoi later confirmed that two of its nationals were killed.
“We are saddened by the loss of life,” a spokesman said.
“The whole thing took between 30 seconds and a minute,” said Fosmire, who escaped through a window.
“I had to put my face to the ceiling to suck any air,” he recalled after he and other survivors were quickly rescued by boats in the area.
Ten foreigners perished along with a Vietnamese tourist and interpreter, while nine tourists and six crew survived, said Vu Van Thin, a local government official in Quang Ninh province.
Officials said part of the boat suddenly broke, but weather was not a factor.
“It is a rare and regrettable incident,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told reporters.