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Operators, govt agencies charged over White Island deaths

1 Dec 2020  By Staff Reporter | | @tourismticker

Whakaari White Island on 9 December 2019. Image: GNS

Ngati Awa-owned White Island Tours, operator Volcanic Air Safaris, and government agencies GNS Science and the National Emergency Management Agency are among parties charged over the deaths on Whakaari White Island a year ago.

Worksafe yesterday said it had charged 13 parties over the 22 fatalities that followed the eruption on 9 December 2019.

A number of parties have identified themselves including James, Peter and Andrew Buttle, who were directors of the island-owning company Whakaari Management.

WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes said at a media conference on Monday afternoon that it would not name any of the charged parties because they had a legal right to seek name suppression when they came before Auckland District Court on 15 December.

“The integrity of the process is paramount,” Parkes said.

“The charges conclude the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by WorkSafe.

“We investigated whether those with any involvement in taking tourists to the island were meeting their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.  We consider that these 13 parties did not meet those obligations. It is now up to the judicial system to determine whether they did or not. WorkSafe can’t comment on the matters in front of the court.”

WorkSafe would not release the investigation reports into each charged party until the conclusion of the legal process.

“It is critical we respect the need to ensure the maintenance of the law, including the proper conduct of court proceedings.”

Three individuals have been charged under section 44 of the Act, which required directors, or individuals with significant influence, to exercise due diligence that the company is meeting its health and safety obligations under the Act. Each charge carried a maximum fine of $300,000.

Ten organisations have been charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Nine face a section 36 charge for failure to ensure the health and safety of workers and others, and one faces either a section 36 or a section 37 charge, which relates to the duty of a PCBU that controls a workplace. Each charge carried a maximum fine of $1.5m.

“This tragedy has had a wide-ranging impact on victims, families, communities and iwi,” Parkes said.

“There were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruption, all of whom suffered serious injuries and trauma, and 22 of those have lost their lives. Those who went to the island, did so with the reasonable expectation that there were appropriate systems in place to ensure they made it home healthy and safe.

“That’s an expectation which goes to the heart of our health and safety culture. As a nation, we need to look at this tragedy and ask if we are truly doing enough to ensure our mothers, fathers, children and friends come home to us healthy and safe at the end of each day.”

There were 47 people on Whakaari White Island, most on excursions operated by White Island Tours, when it erupted. Volcanic Air Safaris was also on the island with visitors at the time. In addition to the deaths, a further 22 people were seriously injured.

Most of the tourists were from Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, berthed at Tauranga.

They were on a guided day tour of the active volcano off the Bay of Plenty coast.

Among the fatalities were White Island Tours guides Tipene Maangi and Hayden Marshall-Inman.


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