White Island: Company found guilty after volcano disaster


A New Zealand tour company has been found guilty of failing to minimize the risk to the 22 people who died in the 2019 White Island volcanic disaster.

An Auckland court found on Tuesday that Whakaari Management had failed to adequately assess the risk to visitors or to provide them with protective equipment.

“It was of critical importance to ensure that tours can be carried out safely,” Judge Evangelos Thomas found.

However, a second complaint regarding the required safety of those working on the island was dismissed.

Around 50 people, mainly Australian tourists, were on White Island – also known as Whakaari – on 9 December 2019 when the deadly eruption occurred.

The eruption also left 25 people with horrific burns.

The court heard during a 10-week trial that before the disaster, the island’s owners earned around NZ$1 million (about R10 million) a year from tourists.

Whakaari Management is the last of 13 individuals and organizations originally charged for their alleged role in the disaster.

Six of the 13 accused, including the three brothers who own the island, have already been acquitted.

New Zealand’s emergency management agency was also cleared of any wrongdoing in May last year.

Whakaari Management – which granted permits to tourists to visit the island – will be sentenced next February along with six other parties who pleaded guilty.

The company faces fines of up to NZ$1.5 million (about R16 million).

The case was brought by New Zealand’s workplace safety watchdog Worksafe NZ and is the largest action of its kind yet.

No boat or plane tours to White Island have been allowed since the deadly eruption.