New Zealand: Tourists had 'no warning' over volcano eruption

World Tuesday 11/July/2023 14:48 PM
By: DW
New Zealand: Tourists had 'no warning' over volcano eruption

Auckland: A trial opened on Tuesday over a volcanic eruption in New Zealand that killed 22 people in 2019.

Dozens more were left terribly burned after a "massive explosion" on White Island — also known as Whakkari. The island was owned by the brothers Andrew, James and Peter Buttle under Whakaari Management Limited (WML).

Six parties, including two tour companies and the WML, have been charged with breaching health and safety regulations in the lead-up to the disaster.

What prosecutors said at White Island criminal trial
The tourists on the island received no health and safety warning before they landed on New Zealand's most active volcano, prosecutor Kristy McDonald said in her opening comments.

"The business of tourism on Whakaari was a risky business. It involved tours to an active volcano, taking people to the heart of the crater in circumstances where no one could predict when an eruption might occur," she added.

There were 47 tourists on White Island when the volcanic eruption happened.

"No one is suggesting that the timing of this eruption could have been predicted... but it was foreseeable that it may erupt at some point," McDonald told the Auckland District court.

McDonald argued that the company that owned the volcano failed to understand the risk.

Despite the "heightened state of volcanic unrest," McDonald said several operators continued taking tourists to the crater.

What happened on White Island?
White Island is an active volcanic island in New Zealand's northeastern Bay of Plenty region.

On December 9, 2019, a volcano on the tourist island erupted, releasing rock and ash in the air.

In total, 14 Australians, five Americans, two New Zealanders and one German were killed. Many more people suffered horrific injuries, prompting a massive medical operation that saw victims treated in burns units across New Zealand and Australia.

Tourists are no longer able to visit the island.

Six companies, including White Island Tours, which ferried 21 of those killed to the volcanic site by boat, have already pleaded guilty.

Now each of the companies on trial faces a maximum fine of NZ$ 1.5 milllion ($920,000, €840,000). Each of the brothers charged faces a maximum fine of NZ $300,000.