Cruise

Travel companies among 13 parties charged over White Island tragedy

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

New Zealand’s work safety watchdog has charged 13 parties over the Whakaari/White Island tragedy last December.

The watchdog, WorkSafe, was unable to reveal the names of the parties, as they have the right to seek name suppression at their first court appearance. However, local media has confirmed a Rotorua-based helicopter company is among those charged.

“There’s not really too much I can say. I can confirm we are one of the parties that has been charged, but we don’t know what the exact process is,” Volcanic Air pilot and director Tim Barrow told the Rotorua Daily Post.

Government bodies GNS Science and the National Emergency Management Agency were also among those charged, according to Perth Now, along with White Island Tours, which lost two tour guides in the tragedy.

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 last year.

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.

Royal Caribbean said it would not comment on whether it was named amongst those charged.

Of the 13 parties, 10 are organisations, with nine of those facing a section 36 charge (failure to ensure the health and safety of workers and others) and one faces either a section 36 or a section 37 (duty of a PCBU that controls a workplace) charge. Each charge carries a maximum fine of $1.4 million.

Three individuals were also charged under section 44 of the Act which requires directors, or individuals with significant influence over a company to exercise due diligence that the company is meeting its health and safety obligations under the Act. Each charge carries a maximum fine of $285,000.

WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes said the charges conclude the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by WorkSafe.

“This was an unexpected event, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable and there is a duty on operators to protect those in their care,” he said.

“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.

“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. WorkSafe can’t comment on the matters in front of the court.

“This tragedy has had a wide-ranging impact on victims, families, communities and iwi. There were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruption, all of whom suffered serious injuries and trauma, and 22 of those have lost their lives.

“Those who went to the island did so with the reasonable expectation that there were appropriate systems in place to ensure they made it home healthy and safe.

“That’s an expectation which goes to the heart of our health and safety culture. As a nation, we need to look at this tragedy and ask if we are truly doing enough to ensure our mothers, fathers, children and friends come home to us healthy and safe at the end of each day.”

According to SBS, the latest casualty of the eruption occurred just last week, when Horst Westenfelder died in an overseas hospital as a result of complications from surgery.

Those charged are set to face the Auckland District Court on 15 December 2020.

Travel Weekly has contacted White Island Tours, one of the operators who hosted trips to the island that day, for comment.

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