Birthday boat sinks in southern Vietnam; 15 dead

A tour boat cruising a river to celebrate a 3-year-old's birthday capsized during a violent storm in southern Vietnam, killing the boy, four other children and 10 adults, officials said Saturday.

Divers recovered the bodies from the Saigon River on Saturday afternoon, but one passenger remained missing, said Trieu Van Giau, head of Binh Duong provincial waterway police.

Several people managed to swim to safety after the double-decker, restaurant-style boat capsized Friday evening about 100 yards (meters) from the terminal, said Le Van Hieu, chief of Binh Nham village in Binh Duong province, 19 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.

"It's horrible to see the birthday party for that 3-year-old boy turn into a tragedy," he said.

The sinking is being investigated, but the heavy rains and violent winds occurring at the time were blamed.

According to state-run media, a Vietnamese businessman was throwing the birthday celebration. The reports said the father managed to survive, but that nine family members — including his wife, son and 6-year-old daughter — did not make it to shore.

One survivor was quoted as saying he was having a beer with friends when the boat started to sink. He said it flooded with water so fast that he wasn't able to reach his wife and son on the other side of the deck. Others reported that all of the windows had been closed to keep out the rain, which may have hindered passengers' escape.

Hundreds of soldiers and police were mobilized for a search and rescue operation. They were expected to hoist the sunken boat from the water using a crane, Hieu said, adding that strong currents initially prevented divers from reaching the vessel.

The boat, which can carry up to 75 people, is a popular choice for parties. It is owned by the Din Ky Green Tourist Company in Binh Duong province.

The bodies of two Chinese victims, a man and a woman, have been transferred to Cho Ray hospital in Ho Chi Minh City where they will be handed over to the Chinese Embassy.

In February, Vietnam experienced its worst foreign tour boat accident when 11 vacationers from nine countries, along with their Vietnamese tour guide, drowned when the overnight boat they were sleeping on sank in northern Ha Long Bay, one of the country's must-see sites.

Earlier this month, another tour junk went down in the bay while serving 28 French tourists. No one was injured.