At least 12 people have been killed and 31 injured after a Polish bus full of religious pilgrims skidded on a highway in northern Croatia early Saturday morning.

Some 18 people among the 31 injured were seriously injured after the bus crashed on the A4 highway in Podvorec, about 50 km north of the capital Zagreb.

The most likely cause of the crash was the driver falling asleep, state broadcaster HRT reported.

“All the victims are Polish citizens – we can confirm that at this stage,” a spokesperson for the Polish Foreign Ministry told TVN24.

“The bus has Warsaw license plates.”

The passengers were heading to Medjugorje, a Roman Catholic shrine in southern Bosnia, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said.

Officials from the Polish Embassy in Croatia were on the scene this morning, according to a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry.

Emergency services were deployed after the crash around 5.40am near Breznicki Hum, heading towards Zagreb, police said.

An investigation into the cause of the accident is currently underway.

The section of road near the scene was closed to traffic to allow the rescue of passengers.

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Photo: AP

Medjugorje is claimed to be the site of a number of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, who was first seen by six local children in 1981.

The shrine, located 20 km east of the Croatian border, is the third most popular pilgrimage destination in Europe after Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal.

In a statement on Facebook, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he spoke to his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic, who assured the “full support of Croatian medical services”.

Emergency services at the scene of the tragedy Pic: AP
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Photo: AP
The crash scene in Podvorec where at least 11 people were killed Pic: AP
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Photo: AP

Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman expressed his condolences to the victims and wished those injured a speedy recovery.

“The Croatian people stand in solidarity with Poland and its citizens,” he tweeted.

His Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rau, also expressed his sadness at the tragedy and thanked the Croatian state services and public for their help.

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