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October 31, 2023

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New Zealand landowner company found guilty over volcano disaster

Landowner, Whakaari Management Limited (WML), has been found guilty for failing to minimise risk at the time of the White Island (also known as Whakaari) volcanic eruption in 2019, where 22 people were killed.

Credit: David Maunsell, Unsplash

Of the 22 people killed, 19 were tourists and two others were tour guide employees. Another 25 people were also injured, suffering from burns.

The volcano, a popular tourist destination, is New Zealand’s most active volcano, and had shown heightened activity in the weeks preceding the eruption.

The lawyer for WML, which also licenses tours to the island, had argued that the company did not have ‘active control’ in the day-to-day operations of tours to the island, being a landowner only.

“Astonishing failures”

Evangelos Thomas, the court judge preceding over the case, criticised the “astonishing failures” by WML saying: “In WML’s case, it should have appreciated that it could [not] rely on risk assessment work being done by others to relieve it of its own obligation in relation to risk … it needed to stop and re-evaluate.

“It should have been no surprise that Whakaari could erupt at any time, and without warning, at the risk of death and serious injury.”

At Auckland District Court on Tuesday 31 October, the company were found guilty of breaches in the Health and Safety Work Act 2015, under Section 36(1)(a), 36(2), 48(1) and (48)(2)(c) including:

  • Failing to comply with a duty to ensure the health and safety of workers so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Failing to comply with a duty to ensure the health and safety of other persons so far as is reasonably practicable.

The company will face up to NZ$1.5m (£724,000) in fines. Six other parties pleaded guilty to health and safety failings at the beginning of the trial with a sentencing hearing set for February 2024.

Tourist activities have not resumed since the eruption on the island.

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Craig Emanuel
Craig Emanuel
7 months ago

I watched a documentary on this eruption. It was horrific.