The owner of White Island/Whakaari, the New Zealand volcano that erupted in 2019, resulting in 22 fatalities, has been found guilty of violating workplace safety laws. Whakaari Management Limited (WML), the company that owned the land, did not fulfill its safety responsibilities towards visitors on the volcano.
The court held WML accountable after charges against other entities were dropped. The judge criticized WML for neglecting safety measures despite the clear and evident risks.
The 2019 catastrophe claimed the lives of 22 people, including 17 Australians, and injured 25 others. It also sparked a discussion about the safety of New Zealand's natural hazard and adventure tourism industry.
The victims were on the eastern island as part of a tour operation that regularly took tourists for a close look at an active volcano. See our earlier report in SafetyNet 678.
In the judge's ruling, he condemned the 'astonishing failures' in safety audits, stressing that WML should have recognized that it couldn't rely on the risk assessments of others to absolve itself of its obligation to manage risk. The judge also emphasized that it shouldn't have been a surprise that Whakaari could erupt at any time, posing a risk of death and serious injury.
WML could face a fine of up to $NZ1.5 million. This tragic event also brought attention to the limitations of New Zealand's no-fault compensation system, which doesn't allow victims or their families to pursue further compensation through civil cases. Some victims have filed lawsuits against Royal Caribbean Cruises, the company that sold tour tickets to the island, in the US legal system, and settlements have been reached with some of them.
Source: The Guardian