A New Zealand tour company which organised a doomed trip to the White Island volcano is facing a fine of up to £750,000 after an eruption killed at least six people.
White Island Tours could be hit with the penalty under health and safety legislation in New Zealand after the country’s regulator announced it is investigating.
The company could also be ordered to pay reparations potentially totalling millions of pounds to people caught up in the disaster.
But the firm is currently facing no criminal charges after police backtracked on an earlier announcement of an inquiry, saying it is ‘too early to say’ whether a crime has been committed.
At least six people are dead, nine have been listed as missing, and 30 others are in hospital after an eruption on New Zealand’s White Island while people were taking a tour
White Island Tours, the company at the centre of the disaster, is now facing a £750,000 fine and millions of pounds in reparation payments after the country’s health and safety regulator announced an investigation
Meanwhile Royal Caribbean, the cruise company which sent 24 passengers on the ill-fated volcano tour, is also facing possible lawsuits in the US, where it is based.
If courts there find it has is a case to answer, then personal injury claims could be considerably higher than penalties faced by White Island Tours, potentially running into the tens of millions.
A Royal Caribbean spokesman refused to say whether the company organised the volcano tour itself, or whether it sub-contracted the responsibility to another firm.
The company issued a statement saying: ‘We grieve this tragic loss. We will to continue to offer our support and services to the families during this difficult time.’
A request for comment to White Island Tours went unanswered.
WorkSafe, the public body responsible for enforcing New Zealand’s Health and Safety Act, announced Tuesday that it is investigating the disaster on White Island which involved tour company White Island Tours.
The regulator has 12 months to conduct its investigation, after which it may decide to prosecute the company for failing to keep its staff and guests safe.
Royal Caribbean, the cruise company which sent 24 passengers on the tour, could be hit with personal injury suits in the US where it is based and face millions in costs (pictured, New Zealanders wave off the ship after it delayed its cruise due to the disaster)
Among those listed as missing, presumed dead, are two of White Island Tours’ own staff - Hayden Marshal-Inman and Tipene Maangi
WorkSafe has been responsible for prosecuting of a number of tourist attractions over the years, including a diving firm and a tree climbing company.
In 2016, it successfully prosecuted Cathedral Cove Dive, based on New Zealand’s north island, after a Taiwanese tourist drowned while diving.
There was no fine leveled against the company, but it was ordered to pay £35,000 in reparations to relatives of the victim.
The regulator also prosecuted Tree Adventures climbing centre, near Auckland, in 2014 after 57-year-old Clifford Paul Brabet fell to his death after his safety harness was wrongly attached.
The company was fined £12,000 – which was paid to the government – and ordered to pay £40,000 in reparations to Mr Brabet’s relatives.
Graeme Christie, a specialist insurance lawyer at Bankside Chambers who spoke to the New Zealand Herald, said that in the case of White Island Tours the courts may decide to impose a maximum fine of £750,000.
While guests were asked to sign waivers before going on the tour, he said these will not protect them from health and safety regulations.
‘You can’t contract out of the Health and Safety Act,’ he said.
There were 47 people on White Island when the volcano silently spewed out a jet of scalding steam and ash on Monday (pictured)
At least six people have been confirmed dead following the eruption on Monday, while another nine have been named as missing presumed dead.
A further 30 people are being treated in hospital, some with severe burns, while three have been treated and released.
As well as payouts from injured would be able to collect compensation money from New Zealand’s national no-fault insurance scheme, run by the Accident Compensation Corporation, with payouts typically around £50,000.
However, this money would come from the government and not directly from White Island Tours.
The law that regulates the scheme also specifies that people who have suffered injury do not have the right to sue an at-fault party, except for exemplary or punitive damages.
White Island Tours will have public liability and director’s liability insurance to protect itself against lawsuits for damages, Mr Christie added.
Individuals will also be able to claim cover for medical injury and death from their travel insurance, provided the insurer agrees to pay out.
While dangerous activities are not usually covered, experts said that because White Island was a known tourist destination, they would expect firms to honour claims.
The island was covered with a pall of toxic gas and steam after the eruption, as desperate tourists scrambled towards the ocean (pictured, a destroyed helicopter on the island)
Forty seven people were on White Island at 2.11pm on Monday when the volcano spewed out a jet of scalding steam and ash.
Five people died in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, while a sixth passed away from their injuries in hospital late Tuesday.
Nine have been officially listed as missing, presumed dead, among them Hayden Marshal-Inman and Tipene Maangi, both guides for White Island Tours.
Another 30 are being treated in hospital, 27 of whom have burns to more than 30 per cent of their bodies, and some of whom suffered inhalation burns to their lungs and airways.
New Zealand’s chief medic Pete Watson has said it is likely that not all of those currently being treated will survive.
On Wednesday it was reveled that the country has ordered 1.2million square centimetres of human skin from Australia and the US to use in skin grafts.
That amount of skin would be enough to cover 60 human bodies, giving an idea of the severity of the victims’ injuries.
Missing, presumed dead: The victims of White Island
New Zealand police have released a list of nine people who are confirmed missing, and presumed dead after the eruption on White Island.
They say the list is not exhaustive, because they have not been able to contact next-of-kin for all those listed as missing on an unofficial site.
Another list of those being treated in hospital has been compiled, but they say they cannot release it due to privacy concerns.
The missing are:
Gavin Dallow and Jessica Richards, from Australia
The Hosking/Dallow family had been on a tour at the time of the eruption. Mum Lisa Dallow is among the injured in hospital. Her husband Gavin (right) 53, and 15-year-old daughter Zoe, from Adelaide, (left) have been listed as missing
Krystal Browitt (Australia)
Richard Elzer (Australia)
Zoe Hosking (Australia)
Karla Matthews (Australia)
Julie Richards (Australia)
Tipene Maangi (New Zealand)
Hayden Inman (New Zealand)
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