New Zealand regulator charges 13 parties over White Island eruption tragedy

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the Whakaari, also known as White Island volcano, in New Zealand, December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's workplace regulator has filed charges against 13 parties following an investigation into a volcanic eruption on White Island in 2019 which killed 22 people.

A surprise eruption on the White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, on Dec 9 last year, killed 22 people and injured dozens.

Majority of them were tourists from countries like Australia, the United States and Malaysia who were part of a cruise ship that was travelling around New Zealand. There were 47 people on the island when the volcano erupted.

Worksafe, New Zealand's primary regulator for workplace related incidents, said in a news conference its investigations found 13 parties had not met their health and safety obligations in taking the tourists to the White island.

"This was an unexpected event, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable and there is a duty on operators to protect those in their care.” said WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkes.

Worksafe has charged 10 organisations under the Health and Safety at Work Act with each charge carrying a maximum fine of NZ$1.5 million ($1.06 million).

Three individuals were charged as directors or individuals who were required to exercise due diligence to ensure the company meets its health and safety obligations. These charges each carry a maximum fine of $300,000.

WorkSafe did not name those charged as they may seek suppression orders in their first appearance in court on Dec 15.

The agency said it had not investigated the rescue and recovery following the eruption, as that is the subject of a coronial inquest which is underway.

At the time of the eruption questions were raised why people were allowed on the island, a popular destination for day-trippers, given there was reportedly a heightened risk of an eruption.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)

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