WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Almost a year after the death of a fatal volcanic eruption that killed 22 people on New Zealand’s White Island, the country’s labor protection agency has indicted 13 parties for their roles in the disaster.
In a televised address on Monday, Phil Parkes, director of regulator WorkSafe, said the parties – including organizations, government agencies and three individuals – had failed to fulfill their obligations and were facing charges in court.
“This deeply tragic event was unexpected, but that does not mean it was unpredictable and operators have a duty to protect those in their care,” said Parkes. “The victims – both workers and visitors – all had a reasonable expectation that they could go to the island, knowing that the organizations involved had done everything possible to ensure their health and safety.”
The organizations will face a maximum penalty of $ 1.5 million New Zealand, approximately $ 1 million, while the three people are charged as executives of a company and a maximum fine of approximately $ 210,000 for their role in the disaster . The first hearing is scheduled for December 15th.
The charge is unusual: under the government-run system of involuntary accident compensation known as the Accident Compensation Corporation system, people in New Zealand generally have little remedy for an accident caused by negligence, no matter how severe the event.
Although WorkSafe’s 13 companies have not been publicly named, two government agencies, GNS Science and the National Emergency Management Agency, have confirmed they are among the defendants. GNS Science monitors volcanic activity.
The volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, erupted on December 9th last year. At the time, 47 people, including tour groups and their guides, were on the island for a glimpse of the edge of New Zealand’s geological activity. Those affected included children and retirees.
After the disaster, some asked why these tourists were allowed to visit the site of an active volcano. Volcanologists had long warned that White Island could be a disaster waiting to happen GeoNetThe agency that monitors geological activity in New Zealand had reported increased activity in the weeks leading up to the eruption, raising the warning level to 2 out of 5.
Tours to the remote island have now been suspended, despite requests to resume them under new security protocols.
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