Dozens forced to leap off fiery tourist boat

White Island off coast of New Zealand. (Reuters)

White Island off coast of New Zealand. (Reuters)

Sixty people were forced to jump off a tourist boat which caught fire off the coast of New Zealand.

The vessel - called Peejay - was returning from White Island to the town of Whakatane when it suddenly caught fire.

Smoke and flames were seen coming from the engine room and quickly engulfed the boat.

The vessel was just over half a mile from the shore when it got into trouble.

All 53 passengers and seven crew members were rescued and brought to safety before the boat sank.

"The blaze took hold of the vessel forcing those on board to jump into the water," police said in a statement.

"A coastguard boat and a number of small local vessels went out to assist in recovering passengers and crew from the water.

"A helicopter carried out a sweep of the water to confirm everyone had been rescued.

"The passenger manifest has been checked against those rescued from the water and everyone is accounted for."

Two people were taken to hospital for treatment for minor injuries and smoke inhalation.

White Island, about 31 miles off the North Island coast in the Bay of Plenty, is volcanically active and popular with tourists.

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