A boat anchored in northeastern Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay sank on Thursday at dawn, killing a dozen sleeping onboard, most young foreign tourists. The picturesque UNESCO Heritage Site, flecked with ancient limestone formations, is a popular travel destination, and visitors commonly bunk on traditional tour ships.
Among those who drowned were vacationers from the U.S., Australia, Britain, Sweden, Japan, Russia and France, all of them in their cabins when the vessel went down. The group’s Vietnamese tour guide has also been confirmed dead. Six Vietnamese locals and nine other foreign travelers were rescued by neighboring tour boats. “They were given first aid treatment and have already returned to their hotels,” Giang Quoc Duy, deputy director of Bai Chay Hospital, told the AP.
(More on TIME.com: Read more about Ha Long Bay, northeastern Vietnam’s UNESCO Heritage Site.)
The 27 passengers onboard have all been accounted for, but the reason for the vessel’s descent into the icy green waters off Titov Island remains unclear. The weather was apparently calm. Survivors of the accident recall seeing one of the ship’s wooden planks break away, leaving an entrance through which the sea fast swept in. Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province, said crewmembers had little time to alert those still dormant in their rooms.
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Approximately three hours east of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, near the Chinese border in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay is famed for its thousands of limestone karsts and tiny islets. The area received 5.4 million visitors last year, over half of which were foreign tourists, reports the BBC, citing government websites. The submerged junk boat, owned by Truong Hai Company, was one of over 100 ships in the area licensed to accommodate travelers overnight. During the past decade, several such cruise boats have gone down in the bay. (via AP)