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New Zealand’s workplace watchdog charges 13 parties over fatal White Island volcano eruption



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uthorities in New Zealand have filed safety violation charges against 13 parties after a volcanic eruption at White Island killed 22 people last year.

There were 47 people on White Island, the tip of an undersea volcano also known by its indigenous Maori name Whakaari, when superheated steam erupted, leaving many people with severe burns.

Many of those killed and injured were tourists who had been traveling from Australia on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas. Of those killed, 14 were Australian, five were American, two were New Zealanders and one was from Germany.

WorkSafe, New Zealand’s workplace health and safety regulator, revealed 10 parties face charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act which carries a maximum fine of $1.5m (£830,700).

Three individuals who were required to exercise due diligence to ensure the company meets its health and safety obligations, have also been charged. Each individual charged faces a maximum fine of 300,000 New Zealand dollars (£158,000).

The names of the 10 organisations and three individuals charged are being kept secret for now by authorities under New Zealand’s legal rules.

But two agencies which rely on public funding – GNS Science and the National Emergency Management Agency – have disclosed they are among those charged.

New Zealand volcano: Five dead after White Island eruption

Some of the others charged are likely to include private companies which took tourists to the island. The individuals charged were either company directors or managers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “At this time, I know all New Zealanders’ thoughts are with the families and those who experienced loss or injury. There is no easy process from here.  

“But it is the job of WorkSafe to make sure that if there are questions to be answered, that they play a role in leading the charge on that.”

The island had been a popular tourist destination before the eruption on December 9. But many people now question why tourists were allowed to visit, especially after experts monitoring seismic activity raised the volcano’s alert level two weeks before the eruption.

New Zealand Volcano eruption: White Island – In pictures

@allesaabdrokauffmann via Reuters

Chris Firkin/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Schade/AFP via Getty Images

Smoke billows into the sky above the White Island

@allesaabdrokauffmann via Reuters

Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

Michael Schade/AFP via Getty Images

Chris Firkin/AFP via Getty Images

Institute of Geological and NuclChris Firkin/AFP via Getty Images

New Zealand Police Superintendent Bruce Bird (L) with Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern speak to the media about the eruption of Whakaari/White Island during a press conference in Whakatane

AFP via Getty Images

People are seen grieving and comforting one another on the Whakatane Wharf

Getty Images

A flag flys at half mast at a Marae in respect for the victims of the White Island volcanic eruption

AFP via Getty Images

Makeshift memorial is seen in front of cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, in Tauranga, New Zealand

AP

A woman is consoled after laying flowers at fence on the waterfront in Whakatane

AP

A man places a bouquet to a fence on the waterfront in Whakatane, New Zealand

AP

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (R) hugs a first responder from the St John’s ambulance team that helped those injured in the White Island volcano eruption

AFP via Getty Images

The charges were brought by WorkSafe are separate from an ongoing police investigation into the eruption, which could result in more charges. Families of some of those killed and injured have also filed their own lawsuits.

“This deeply tragic event was unexpected. But that does not mean it was unforeseeable,” said Phil Parkes, the chief executive of WorkSafe.

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He said the victims, which included tourists and guides, all had an expectation they could go to the island believing the organisations involved had fulfilled requirements to look after their health and safety.

WorkSafe had a statutory one-year deadline to file charges, which is why its announcement came close to the anniversary.

Additional reporting by PA Media.