New Zealand Defense Forces / via Getty Images
The New Zealand government has blamed a volcanic eruption that killed 22 people on the White Island last year, saying operators who brought tourists to see the country’s most active volcano failed to comply with health and safety rules. .
Officials say 47 people were on the island when the volcano erupted in the early afternoon of December 9, sending a feather of ash, toxic gas and rocks about 12,000 feet into the sky. Rescue crews rushed to find survivors, and recovery teams spent about two weeks trying to find casualties.
The eruption was unexpected, but not unpredictable, according to WorkSafe New Zealand, the country’s workplace safety agency.
“Those who went to the island did so with the reasonable expectation that there are appropriate systems in place to ensure they make it healthy and safe at home,” WorkSafe CEO Phil Parks said in a statement issued Monday.
The eruption is a “hydrothermal explosion,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“The volcano showed signs of excitement for several weeks before the eruption on December 9, 2019,” the USGS said. “In October, seismic tremors and sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas emissions were at their highest levels since 2016, indicating an increased likelihood of an eruption. “
Everyone who was on White Island that day suffered “serious injuries and trauma,” WorkSafe said. The survivors suffered severe burns to their skin and lungs.
WorkSafe has enforced 13 countries in Auckland District Court – 10 organizations and three people. Nine of the groups are accused of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and others, while the other is accused of failing to control the workplace. Each of these charges carries a maximum fine of more than $ 1 million.
The three are facing smaller fines imposed under a provision that requires people “with significant influence over a company to exercise due diligence” in fulfilling their health and safety obligations.
WorkSafe did not name any of the parties, noting that they had the right to request that their names be suppressed on their first appearance in court.
White Island, also known as Maori, Wakaari, is the tip of a huge underwater volcano rising more than 1,000 feet from the waters of the Gulf of Abundance. The island is about 30 miles off the north-northeast coast of New Zealand.
Those who were on the island at the time of the eruption included nine Americans and 24 Australians. Other countries visited are China, Malaysia, Germany, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Occupational safety charges are not related to the reaction that followed the eruption, such as rescue and recovery operations. WorkSafe says it did not investigate this part of the incident.
“These actions could be the subject of other proceedings, such as a coin investigation,” the agency said.