Cruise

White Island update: death toll rises, Ovation of the seas leaves port

Six people are now confirmed dead and eight missing in the aftermath of a devastating volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island on Monday afternoon.

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern said recovery teams hope to access the island today to bring home any survivors.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Ardern said the island has become more unstable overnight.

“Everyone wants those bodies to come back. Unfortunately overnight we have seen a tremor activity. The situation in terms of volatility has worsened, rather than improved. But everyone is desperate to get them off,” she said.

“[The risk] is worse than it has been prior, that tremor activity has made it more volatile, more unstable.

“It’s also a very unpredictable and rapidly changing environment.”

Police Minister Stuart Nash said authorities had to carefully consider safety risks to ensure rescuers landing on the island could do so safely, according to ABC News.

The national broadcaster also reported aerial surveillance has detected no signs of life on the island.

During a press conference at Kirribilli house yesterday, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said 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 10 unaccounted for. Morrison said it is feared that at least up to three of those unaccounted for could be Australian.

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.

After the eruption, the ship remained docked in Tauranga as police began investigations, but early this morning the ship was able to once again set sail and is due to arrive in Wellington tomorrow, returning to Australia over the weekend.

Meanwhile, questions are being raised about why tourists were allowed to be on the island in the first place.

“There will be questions asked, that need to be answered … by the appropriate authorities… it’s an unpredictable live volcano,” Ardern said, according to SBS.

White Island Tours, one of the operators who host tours on to the active volcano, said on its website (which has since been taken down) that “passengers should be aware that there is always a risk of eruptive activity regardless of the alert level” as per SBS.

“Level 3 and above we liaise more directly with GeoNet but level 2 is still within our operational guidelines,” Paul Quinn, chair of Ngati Awa Holdings which owns White Island Tours, told Radio New Zealand.

GeoNet had put the volcano at level two which indicates minor volcanic unrest.

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