A devastating volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island has killed at least five people, three of which are believed to be Australian passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed at a press conference in Kirribilli that 24 Australians were on or near the island at the time of the eruption, with 13 now being treated in hospitals across New Zealand and 11 unaccounted for. Morrison said it is feared that at least up to three of those unaccounted for could be Australian.
However, the prime minister also revealed that New Zealand police have said they do not believe anyone that is still on the island to be alive.
“I fear there is worse news to come over the course of perhaps today or over the next few days,” the prime minister said.
“This is a terrible tragedy. A time of great innocence and joy interrupted by the horror of that eruption and I would ask again that we refrain from any speculation about individuals at this time so we can ensure that we can contact and deal directly with families to ease what will be a highly anxious and highly upsetting time for them.”
Those on the island at the time of the eruption were undertaking a shore excursion as part of a cruise on board Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.
A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean told Travel Weekly that the details emerging from the island are “heartbreaking”
“We are communicating with our guests and their families. We’re making sure they are taken care of in terms of medical help, counseling, accommodations, and transport,” the spokesperson said.
“Our hearts go out to them, and we want to be as supportive as we can.
“We are grateful for the work of all the first responders and medical personnel. We also thank the prime minister and her team, the local authorities and everyone who has reached out to help with their kind thoughts and prayers.”
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt
— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
According to a statement from Tourism New Zealand, 47 people were confirmed to be on or near the island at the time of the eruption, with emergency services able to evacuate only 20.
The prime minister confirmed that of the 13 Australians in hospital, a “number” are known to be in critical conditions.
“Obviously there are burns issues, quite severe burns issues, and that’s why they are in so many different hospitals because they have been taken to the various burns units across New Zealand,” he said.
“But the full details of all of their conditions is not yet known and that’s what consular staff are tasked with today and it’s why additional staff are going over to New Zealand.”
Royal Caribbean has asked that those concerned about relatives aboard Ovation of the Seas can call 1300-026-240 (Australia) or New Zealand (0800-002141).