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Sixty people were rescued after being forced to leap into the sea when a tourist boat caught fire off the coast of New Zealand.

Three people were taken to hospital, suffering smoke inhalation and injuries from their leap into the water.

The boat was returning from volcanic White Island, off the coast of the North Island to the town of Whakatane, when it suddenly burst into flames.

The blaze was reported to have started in the engine room as the vessel was about half a mile from the shore.

The boat – the PeeJay 5 – belonged to Whakatane-based White Island Tours, the Whakatane Beacon reported.

 All 53 passengers and seven crew members – were rescued and brought ashore before the boat sank.

A statement from police said: “The blaze took hold of the vessel forcing those on board to jump into the water.

“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.”