WorkSafe New Zealand will reveal details relating to its investigation into the Whakaari/White Island eruption disaster.
The charges relate to the tragedy that claimed 22 lives in last December’s eruption.
WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes confirmed charges have been laid against 13 parties in relation to the eruption.
Parkes says the charges conclude the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by WorkSafe.
The eruption was “unexpected” but was not “unforseeable”, WorkSafe said.
He says his team has filed charges against 10 organisations and three individuals.
Of the 13 charged, 10 will face charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act and three directors or individuals will face charges relating to exercising due diligence to ensure the company meets its health and safety obligations. These hold maximum fines of $1.5 million and $300,000 respectively.
Parkes said WorkSafe’s investigation did not include the rescue and recovery operation.
Under New Zealand law he said he can’t name the parties the charges have been brought against because they are able to apply for name suppression.
WorkSafe had one year from the incident to file charges.
Nineteen tourists and two tour guides from White Island Tours were among the dead after the volcanic island erupted during a sight-seeing tour.
Forty-seven people were on the island at the time.
Many more would have died if not for the heroic actions of tour guides, fellow tourists, helicopter charter pilots, and the work of specialist medical teams.
Tourists have not been back to the island since.
WorkSafe confirmed the day after the tragedy that it had launched its own investigation.
In a statement at the time, the department said: “WorkSafe New Zealand has opened a health and safety investigation into the harm and loss of life caused by the eruption.”
Under law, WorkSafe can prosecute for breaches of health and safety regulations. Penalties and sanctions range from $50,000 to $3m and jail sentences of up to five years.
WorkSafe had general oversight of tourism operations on the volcanic island off the Bay of Plenty coastline.
Under regulations introduced in 2016, it required companies such as White Island Tours and the myriad of helicopter companies that offered tours to the island to undergo safety audits.
But it could not dictate access to the island as it was owned privately.
Numerous lawyers in Australia and the US have been hired by Whakaari/White Island survivors and family and friends of some of the people who died.
Sydney-based lawyer Rita Yousef confirmed to the Weekend Herald she had two confirmed clients, and had also been approached by others affected by the tragedy – including some still receiving hospital care – who want to sue Royal Caribbean Group.
Most of the people killed or injured in the December 9, 2019, eruption were on a sight-seeing voyage around New Zealand on the company’s Ovation of the Seas vessel. Royal Caribbean Group is the world’s second biggest cruise operator.
Yousef, who specialises in travel law and public liability for Stacks Goudkamp, said the actions she was looking at were definitely not the only ones that would be seeking financial redress for the tragedy.
“I have heard there are other law firms who are taking on these cases as well. They are Australia and American [companies] so far,” Yousef said from Sydney.
Yousef said the claims she was working on were restricted to Royal Caribbean Group.
That was because it was understood those who went on the fateful trip to White Island had bought their tickets direct from the cruise line, and not the Whakatāne-White Island Tours.
The crux of their legal case will be on the level of warnings passengers were given by the vessel’s crew before signing up for the tour.
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