Tour operators ordered to pay millions to victims of White Island volcano

March 11, 2024

A New Zealand court has ordered NZ$10 million ($6 million) in compensation to the victims of the White Island volcano disaster, where 22 people died..

In December 2019, 47 people were touring the volcano when it erupted, killing nearly half of the group, and gravely injuring everyone else.

The firms which owned the island and operated tours were found guilty last year of negligence and safety breaches.

Their failure to provide proper checks had ruined many lives, the court said.

The volcano had been showing signs of heightened activity in the weeks leading up to the eruption, but operators ignored these, the court said.

The Auckland District Court ordered the company which owned the island, Whakaari Management Limited, to pay NZ$4.57 million in damages to victims.

Whakaari Management, named after the Maori name for the island, licenced tour groups to visit the volcano.

The court also ordered White Island Tours, the company which had brought the tourists to the island for a walking tour, to pay NZ$4.68 million in reparations.

Three other tour companies, Volcanic Air Safaris, Aerius Limited, and Kahu NZ Limited, were also ordered to pay damages.

Judge Evangelos Thomas said in his judgement that the compensation was “no more than a token recognition” of the victims’ suffering.

Payments will be divided among the victims, with greater amounts to the families of the 22 people who were killed.

The owners of the island, Whakaari Management, were also fined NZ$978,000 for breaching workplace safety laws.

The firm’s owners previously faced individual criminal prosecutions over the deaths, but the charges were dropped last year.

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 White Island have not resumed since the eruption.

This is valid as of 11th March 2024.

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