White Island: Company found guilty over NZ volcano disaster

White Island: Company found guilty over NZ volcano disaster
White Island: Company found guilty over NZ volcano disaster

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - SINGAPORE — A company in New Zealand has been found guilty of not "minimizing risk" to 22 people who died in the 2019 White Island volcano disaster.

Judge Evangelos Thomas criticized what he referred to as "astonishing failures" on the part of Whakaari Management.

Whakaari Management licenses tours to White Island.

The case is the largest action of its kind brought by New Zealand's regulator, Worksafe NZ.

The company faces up to NZ$1.5m ($928,000; £724,000) in fines.

Thirteen parties were charged over the disaster - six had pleaded guilty while six more had their charges dismissed.

The judge dismissed a second charge against the company relating to the safety of its own workers.

James, Andrew and Peter Buttle, three brothers who own the company, inherited the volcano and licenced other businesses to run tours. They had also been on trial over alleged breaches of New Zealand's workplace health and safety legislation as individuals, but had those charges dismissed last month.

A lawyer for Whakaari Management had argued that it was merely a landowner without active control of tours to the island and how they were conducted.

But the judge said it "managed and controlled" the active volcano and failed in its duty to minimise the risk there.

White Island - also known by its Māori name of Whakaari - had also been erupting in some form since 2011.

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

Almost half of the 47 people on the island were killed in the December 2019 eruption, including 17 from Australia, three from the US, and two from New Zealand. Another 25 people were injured, many suffering extensive burns.

The disaster prompted the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by WorkSafe NZ, which was also criticised for failing to monitor activities on the island between 2014 and 2019.

Tourism activities on to White Island have not resumed since the eruption.

Some of the tourists who bought their tour ticket to Whakaari through Royal Caribbean Cruises have already reached settlements after suing the Florida-based company in the US. — BBC

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