Cruise

Families to sue Royal Caribbean over White Island volcano tragedy

Royal Caribbean will face a lawsuit from the families of tourists killed in the White Island volcano eruption for alleged negligence.

A Four Corners investigation by the ABC will tonight reveal uncovered details of the “chaos” and “disorganisation” of Royal Caribbean in the hours that followed the eruption of White Island (known locally as Whakaari), which killed 21 people and left many others badly injured.

As many as 19 of the 21 people who died on the island arrived from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, after booking a tour of the island with its operator, Royal Caribbean.

According to ABC News, it was only thanks to the efforts of nearby tourists and local pilots that survivors were able to get off the island alive.

Law firm Stacks Goudkamp has been hired by passengers and family members to pursue legal action in Australia against Royal Caribbean for alleged negligence, breach of contract, and breach of Australian consumer law.

“It was completely preventable. It shouldn’t have happened,” lawyer Rita Yousef told ABC News.

The tourists had booked and paid for their trip to White Island through Royal Caribbean.

“They were told in the brochure that all they needed to do if they were attending this tour was to wear enclosed shoes,” Yousef said.

Additionally, the brochure promised visitors would, “Get close to the drama”.

Royal Caribbean has since ceased all tours visiting active volcanoes.

In the weeks before the eruption on 9 December, New Zealand’s volcano monitoring service, GNS Science, had raised the alert level for White Island from one to two – the highest level outside of erupting.

Yousef said Royal Caribbean told the passengers on the Ovation of the Seas “absolutely nothing” about the possibility or the risks of an eruption.

“At the very least, Royal Caribbean, which held itself out to be responsible for this tour, should have been monitoring this, and communicating with participants as to the risk, and giving them the choice, an informed choice to decide not to go because of this risk,” she told ABC News.

“But what appears [to have] happened is that nobody [at Royal Caribbean] was monitoring or taking this level seriously.”

Previously, passengers onboard Ovation of the Seas had expressed their disapproval with the way Royal Caribbean handled the tragic event, with one father slamming the line’s lack of information and mental health support.

Four Corners understands one group of passengers learned what happened by turning on the TV and seeing news reports of the eruption.

According to Yousef, the lawsuit now seeks to provide closure and justice for families left behind by the tragedy, which is currently under an investigation by the New Zealand government expected to take more than a year.

Travel Weekly has contacted Royal Caribbean for comment.

However, in a statement to ABC News, a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said since the eruption the company has “focused on providing care and support to passengers, their families and crew that were impacted by this event”.

“The details of the tour are the subject of two separate investigations in New Zealand which we will be fully cooperating with and we are unable to provide further details at this time,” the spokesperson told ABC News.

The Four Corners investigation will air tonight at 8:30pm on ABC TV and on the program’s Facebook page.

Featured image: White Island (Whakaari) New Zealand, 11 December 2019 (Planet/Twitter)

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