Millions awarded to White Island volcano victims

Connie Queline

Millions awarded to White Island volcano victims

EPA

A New Zealand court has ordered NZ$10m (£4.8m; $6m) 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.

On Friday, the Auckland District Court ordered the company which owned the island, Whakaari Management Limited, to pay NZ$4.57m 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$4.68m in reparations.

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

  • The privately owned volcano that is always active

Seventeen of the tourists who died were from Australia, with the others from the US, New Zealand and Germany. Affected visitors on the day had also come the UK, China and Malaysia.

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

Families were broken after the death of loved ones, he acknowledged. Many of the survivors suffered terrible burns and were still enduring a painful toll.

“The treatment was often painful, arduous, disheartening. For many it remains ongoing,” he said.

“Many people grapple with disfigurement of one kind or another. It’s not just simply the physical injury that has caused such harm… the emotional consequences deepen the suffering. We acknowledge that harm.”

A small tribute memorial in the New Zealand town of Whakatane shows flowers and the flags of countries where victims were from

Getty Images

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

In testimonies earlier this week, relatives of those who died told the court the “grief never goes away”.

The mother of Hayden Marshall-Inman, a 40-year-old tour guide killed in the eruption, said: “When Hayds died on White Island, a part of me died. My heart carries the loss of him day and night.”

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.

Some of the tourists who bought their tour ticket to Whakaari through Royal Caribbean Cruises have already reached settlements after suing the Florida-based company in the US.

Related Topics

  • Volcanoes
  • New Zealand

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