New Zealand watchdog brings charges for White Island volcano deaths | News | DW | 30.11.2020
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New Zealand watchdog brings charges for White Island volcano deaths

New Zealand's workplace regulator has finished its investigations into tour operators who brought people to White Island when the volcano erupted in December 2019. The tour companies could face millions in fines.

The New Zealand workplace watchdog WorkSafe announced charges on Monday against those it claimed were responsible for the deaths of 22 people during the White Island volcanic eruption in December 2019.

The regulator had been investigating why tour groups were taken to White Island — also known as Whakaari — three weeks after the alert level for the volcano had been raised.

Some 47 people, mostly Australian tourists, were present when burning ash and steam burst through from a volcanic vent. The incident left a further 22 people seriously injured.

Operators failed their duties

As a result of their investigation, WorkSafe laid 13 charges against 10 parties and three individuals. The court case is expected to begin on December 15 at Auckland District Court.

"This was an unexpected event, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable and there is a duty on operators to protect those in their care," WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkes said in a published statement.

"That’s an expectation which goes to the heart of our health and safety culture. As a nation we need to look at this tragedy and ask if we are truly doing enough to ensure our mothers, fathers, children and friends come home to us healthy and safe at the end of each day."

More charges may be on their way

The unnamed parties, most likely tour operator companies, could face up to NZ$1.5 million (US $1.1 million, €920,000) in fines while the individuals could be fined up to NZ$300,000.

A separate investigation by the coroner's office is still ongoing and may seek to add manslaughter to the charges.

The tourists, who included German, British, Chinese and Malaysian nationals,  had been traveling on a cruise ship around New Zealand when they took part in a guided day trip to the active volcano just off New Zealand's Bay of Plenty coast.

Authorities carried out searches for several days following the explosion, but two individuals were never found.

This article was partly written with material provided by AFP.