Destinations

New Zealand’s emergency authority pleads not guilty to charges over White Island tragedy

New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the 22 deaths caused by the Whakaari/White Island disaster in 2019.

The agency is among 10 organisations and three individuals facing allegations from Worksafe New Zealand for charges concerning the health and safety of workers and others, obligations to ensure a company is meeting its health and safety obligations and the duty of PCBU.

Each charge carries a maximum fine of $1.4 million for organisations and $285,000 for individuals.

The other 12 defendants delayed entering pleas and were given a new deadline of 24 August, according to ABC News.

Worksafe NZ has not revealed the names of the other parties, but according to local media, those facing charges include the island’s owner Whakaari Management Limited and its directors, GNS Science, White Island Tours Limited, Volcanic Air Safaris Limited, Aerius Limited, Kahu NZ Limited, Inflite Charters Limited, I D Tours New Zealand Limited and Tauranga Tourism Services Limited.

Twenty-two people died and many are still recovering from injuries and trauma caused by the deadly volcanic eruption that occurred on Whakaari/White Island in December 2019.

A total of 47, including 24 Australians, were on White Island, or Whakaari, as part of a shore excursion for Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas when a volcanic eruption occurred.

Worksafe NZ announced it would lay charges against companies involved in the disaster in November 2020, just before the first anniversary of the disaster.

Phil Parkes, CEO of Worksafe NZ, said at the time that the charges conclude the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by the work safety watchdog.

“We investigated whether those with any involvement in taking tourists to the island were meeting their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015,” he said.

“We consider that these 13 parties did not meet those obligations. It is now up to the judicial system to determine whether they did or not.”

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