Passengers were forced to escape on life boats when a fire erupted on a ferry on Thursday with more than 1,200 passengers after it left the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba and headed to Egypt, a maritime official said.

The official from Egypt's Red Sea ports authority said there were no immediate reports of loss of life or injuries, although the rescue operation was continuing. He said there was extensive damage to the ferry.

The fire erupted on the ferry Bella, owned by AB maritime, about 15 nautical miles away from Aqaba, the official said, adding that another vessel was sent from Aqaba to help.

The ferry, which was also carrying five trucks, was bound for the Egyptian port of Nuweiba.

The official said the passengers were mainly Egyptian expatriate workers returning home from neighbouring states.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Jon Hemming)