New Zealand watchdog lays charges over volcano deaths - GulfToday

New Zealand watchdog lays charges over volcano deaths


An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano, in New Zealand. File/Reuters

Gulf Today Report

New Zealand's workplace safety watchdog handed down criminal charges on Monday against 10 organisations over last year's White Island that killed 22 people.

Chief executive Phil Parkes announced charges against the organisations and three individuals who took tourists to the country's most active volcano just weeks after the eruption threat alert level had been raised.

WorkSafe had investigated why 47 people, mainly Australian tourists, were on the island in December 2019 when a column of burning ash and steam blasted from a volcanic vent.


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The island had been a popular tourist destination before the Dec.9 eruption. 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.

The names of those charged are being kept secret for now by authorities under New Zealand legal rules.

But two agencies which rely on public funding have disclosed they are among those charged: GNS Science and the National Emergency Management Agency. Some of the others charged likely include private companies which took tourists to the island. The individuals charged were either company directors or managers.

Each of the organisations faces a maximum fine of 1.5 million New Zealand dollars ($1.1 million). Each individual charged faces a maximum fine of NZ$300,000 ($211,000).

The charges were brought by New Zealand’s WorkSafe agency and 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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