Poland's prime minister said the bus was taking pilgrims to the Catholic shrine in Medjugorje, Europe’s third-most popular pilgrimage destination.
A coach carrying pilgrims to a shrine in Bosnia crashed in northern Croatia early on Saturday, killing at least 12 people and injuring several others according to the authorities.
Croatia's interior minister said the victims were probably Catholic pilgrims on their way to the Medjugorje shrine.
The ministry initially announced on Twitter that 11 people had died. Officials said one more passenger died later in a hospital and that the bus was carrying 43 people.
Some 30 people were injured — 18 seriously — and were transported to several hospitals in Zagreb, said the director of the Croatian emergency services, Maja Grba Bujevic.
Later, the Croatian and Polish health ministers both sent their condolences to the victims during a briefing in Croatia's capital, adding that they doctors were assessing whether some patients could return to Poland.
Croatia’s state HRT television said the most likely cause of the crash was the driver falling asleep.
The broadcaster showed video of a smashed blue bus in a ditch next to the highway. The bus was travelling in the direction of Zagreb.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the bus was taking pilgrims to the Catholic shrine in Medjugorje, a town in southern Bosnia. The shrine is Europe’s third-most popular pilgrimage destination after Lourdes and Fatima, although the Vatican has not verified any of the reported miracles that witnesses claimed to have seen there.
“This morning, I spoke about the details of the tragedy with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who assured the full support of Croatian medical services," Morawiecki said on Facebook. "I recommended our consular services to organize a support organization for the families of accident participants."
Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinic said the bus originated from “a place near Warsaw" and that information suggested it was carrying pilgrims to Medjugorje.
The accident happened at 5:40 a.m. local time (3:40 a.m. GMT) some 50 kilometres north of Zagreb, on the A-4 highway. "The bus veered off its route and slid into the ditch along the motorway," police spokesman Matko Muric told AFP.
Traffic is particularly heavy during the summer months on Croatia's roads, which welcome millions of tourists every year, especially on the Adriatic coast. Polish tourists are among the most numerous: between January and July, more than 580,000 Polish tourists visited Croatia.
In July 2021, ten Kosovo nationals were killed in a bus accident on a motorway in eastern Croatia.
Bus crash in Bulgaria kills four
A bus crash in Bulgaria early Saturday killed four people and left at least eight injured, authorities said.
The bus was carrying tourists back to Romania from a trip to Istanbul when it crashed into a parked car on the side of a highway linking Bulgaria's central city of Veliko Tarnovo with the Danube port of Ruse, local police said.
After hitting the car, the bus smashed into a tree. Three people died on the spot, while a fourth died of his injuries later.