Company Convicted in New Zealand’s White Island Volcano Disaster Case

NEW ZEALAND: In a New Zealand court on Tuesday, the management corporation of White Island, where a volcano eruption tragically claimed the lives of 22 people, primarily tourists, in 2019, was convicted of one count of violating health and safety laws.

After the eruption on White Island, also referred to as Whakaari, the workplace regulator brought charges against 13 parties in November 2020. Six of these parties, which included helicopter and boat tour operators, admitted guilt. Charges against the remaining parties, with the exception of the management company, were dropped.

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District Court Judge Evangelos Thomas determined that Whakaari Management Ltd. (WML), responsible for overseeing the White Island on behalf of the owners but not conducting the tours, was found guilty of one health and safety charge. The judge dismissed a second charge.

Thomas stated that WML had control and responsibility for the volcano as a workplace and, therefore, should have engaged the required expertise, including experts in volcanology and health and safety, to evaluate the risks associated with the tours.

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Thomas stated, “It was a reasonably practicable step it should have taken to ensure it met its duty,” calling it a “major failure” if it had failed.

Whakaari Management Ltd. and the other involved entities, except Inflight Charters, which had already faced sentencing, are anticipated to receive their sentences in the following year.

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The parties could potentially be fined a maximum of NZ$1.5 million ($873,600).

White Island, an active volcano situated approximately 50 km (31 miles) off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island near the town of Whakatane, was a popular destination for visitors despite its history of occasional eruptions.

The majority of the casualties were tourists hailing from various countries, such as Australia, the United States, and Malaysia. When the volcano erupted, there were 47 individuals present on the island, many of whom suffered severe burns from scalding gas and volcanic ash.

Visitors are currently unable to tour the island.

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