57 rescued from charter boat that burst into flames off coast of New Zealand

WELLINGTON (AFP) - Fifty-seven passengers and crew were forced to leap for their lives from a charter boat that burst into flames off New Zealand's east coast on Monday (Jan 18), the police said.

The vessel, packed with tourists, was returning from White Island, an active volcano in the Bay of Plenty, when the fire broke out.

Cruising about 1km from the North Island port of Whakatane, flames were seen coming from the engine room and quickly engulfed the boat.

"The blaze took hold of the vessel, forcing those on board to jump into the water," the 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."

One person was taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and another received minor injuries when jumping from the boat.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately known.