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Court finds owners of Whakaari-White Island failed risk assessment

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A New Zealand court has found the owners of Whakaari White Island were in breach of workplace safety laws when a volcanic eruption claimed 22 lives in 2019.
Whakaari White Island court

A New Zealand court has found the owners of Whakaari White Island were in breach of workplace safety laws when a volcanic eruption claimed 22 lives in 2019.

The judge found that Whakaari Management Limited (WML), the company held by the island’s owners, didn’t properly assess the risks to tourists of a potential eruption on the island.

Judge Evangelos Thomas handed down the verdict in Auckland today after a trial lasting nearly three months.

Whakaari White Island

Whakaari is a privately owned island about 50 kilometres off the northeast coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

It was a popular tourist attraction before a volcanic eruption on the island killed 22 people, including 17 Australians, in December 2019.

In 2020 WorkSafe NZ charged 13 parties, including tourism operators, WML, and the family who privately own Whakaari. It argued these operators failed in their health and safety obligations on the day of the
eruption.

The charges

WorkSafe NZ alleged tourists had a “reasonable expectation” that tour operators would have reasonable health and safety practices in place.

It argued the 13 parties didn’t fulfil these obligations.

Six parties entered guilty pleas ahead of their cases going to trial, and six others had their cases dismissed. WML was the only defendant still awaiting a verdict.

Court’s ruling

In an Auckland court today, a judge ruled that WML didn’t do enough to minimise the risk posed by a volcano eruption on White Island.

It found the company undermined tourists’ safety by failing to access full or frequent information from NZ’s volcano monitoring systems.

The six parties which pleaded guilty and WML will face sentencing in February. They face fines of up to $NZ1.5 million.

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