A volcano has erupted on New Zealand’s White Isle – also known as Whakaari – leaving five people confirmed dead and several still missing.

White Isle is the country’s most active volcano, and moments before the eruption tourist were seen walking inside the crater of the volcano.

Amongst those visiting the site were said to be a group of Royal Caribbean passengers on a land excursion, who were sailing on Ovation of the Seas.

According to reports, police say fewer than 50 people were on the island a the time or eruption, but more than 30 of them were Royal Caribbean cruise passengers.

The same reports indicate that 23 people were rescued from the island following the eruption.

“We are devastated by today’s events and our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy,” read an official statement issued by Royal Caribbean International.

“We are working together with local authorities, and we are providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counselling.”

“We are also sending staff members from both our ship and our Sydney and Auckland offices to assist family members however possible. Ovation of the Seas will remain in port as long as needed to assist with the situation.”

At a Royal Caribbean press event held in London this morning (9 December), associate vice president and managing director for the UK and Ireland Ben Bouldin confirmed passengers are still missing, and that “their hearts are with them at this time”.

The privately-owned White Isle is a popular tourist destination, with many groups and excursions visiting the island.

Commenting on the devastating events, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who have loved ones at the island at that time – and I can assure them police are doing everything they can.”

The New Zealand Defence Force is currently helping the rescue operation and a military plane has carried out the surveillance, with two helicopters and personnel also ready to assist if necessary.