Dramatic video footage has emerged of a 122,000 tonne cruise liner narrowly missing a tiny dinghy with four people on board.

The inflatable, carrying two young men and two young women, had run out of fuel when it found itself in the path of the Celebrity Solstice in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty.

Footage shows the dinghy drifting helplessly as the 315-metre liner looms down on it, missing by just metres as it manages to veer away at the last minute.

The footage, from December, was posted on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Facebook page this week under the heading "very lucky". 

A passenger on board the liner, John Scott, wrote that watching the drama unfold "was sickening and everybody I saw was filled with alarm. The ship's horn was going incessantly."

If the vessel had not been able to veer slightly away "it could have been much worse", Bay of Plenty harbourmaster Peter Buell said Friday.

As the Celebrity Solstice slides past, a pleasure craft can be seen racing to the aid of the dinghy and towing it away. 

"There was definitely a look of fear on their faces," the rescuer, who did not wish to be identified, told the New Zealand Herald. 

"One girl said to me, 'We could have died, eh'?"

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