New Zealand Defense Force / via Getty Images
The New Zealand government has lodged a complaint over the volcano eruption that killed 22 people on the White Island last year, saying operators who took tourists to see the country’s most active volcano were not respecting health and safety rules.
Authorities say 47 people were on the island when the volcano erupted in the early afternoon of December 9, sending a plume of ash, poison gas and rocks about 12,000 feet into the sky. Rescue teams rushed to find survivors and recovery teams spent around two weeks trying to find casualties.
The eruption was unexpected, but it was not unpredictable, according to WorkSafe New Zealand, the country’s workplace safety agency.
“Those who have been to the island have done so with the reasonable expectation that there were appropriate systems in place to ensure they return home healthy and safe,” said the CEO of WorkSafe. , Phil Parkes, in a statement released Monday.
The eruption was a “hydrothermal explosion,” the US Geological Survey determined.
“The volcano had been showing signs of unrest for several weeks before the Dec.9, 2019 explosion,” the USGS said. “In October, earthquakes and sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas emission rates 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 the skin and lungs.
WorkSafe indicted 13 parties in Auckland District Court – 10 organizations and three individuals. 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 a workplace. Each of these charges carries a maximum fine of over $ 1 million.
All three face more modest fines, imposed under a provision that requires those “with significant influence over a business to exercise due diligence” to meet their health and safety obligations.
WorkSafe did not name any of the parties, noting that they have the right to request that their name be removed when they first appear in court.
The White Island, also known by its Maori name, Whakaari, is the summit of a massive underwater volcano rising more than 1,000 feet out of the waters of the Bay of Plenty. The island is approximately 30 miles off the north-northeast coast of New Zealand.
Those on the island at the time of the eruption included nine Americans and 24 Australians. The other countries of origin of the visitors were China, Malaysia, Germany, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Occupational safety costs are unrelated to the post-eruption response, such as rescue and recovery operations. WorkSafe says it has not investigated this part of the incident.
“These actions may be the subject of other procedures, such as a coronary investigation,” the agency said.