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Probes into New Zealand volcano tragedy to take months and carry criminal penalties

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Probes into New Zealand volcano tragedy to take months and carry criminal penalties

By Praveen Menon, Charlotte Greenfield

 

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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and fellow politicians observe a minute of silence, to mark one week since the deadly eruption of White Island, in Wellington, New Zealand, December 16, 2019, in this still image taken from video. TVNZ via REUTERS TV

 

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that official inquiries into last week’s fatal volcano eruption could take up to a year, and will carry potential criminal penalties of up to five years in jail.

 

Ardern also announced a NZ$5 million (2.38 million pounds) fund to help small businesses affected by the eruption, after New Zealanders held a minute of silence to honour the victims a week on from the tragedy.

 

The official death toll from the surprise eruption on White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, stands at 16. Two people whose bodies are believed to be in the waters around the island are still officially listed as missing.

 

A further 26 people remain in hospitals in New Zealand and Australia, many in critical condition with severe burn injuries.

 

“There remains now questions to be asked and questions to be answered,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington after she led the country in a minute of silence for the dead and injured, who included tourists from United States, Germany, China, Britain and Malaysia.

 

There has been growing criticism that people were allowed on the island, a popular destination for day-trippers, given the risks of an active volcano. That has led to speculation the tragedy could foretell major changes for New Zealand’s thrillseeker tourism economy.

 

WorkSafe, New Zealand’s primary regulator for workplace related incidents, has opened a health and safety investigation, Ardern said, while the coroner is conducting a separate inquiry.

 

Worksafe can prosecute individuals and companies for breaches of health and safety laws, with penalties including fines of up to NZ$3 million and jail terms of up to five years, Ardern said.

 

A coronial investigation is automatically triggered in the event of a sudden, violent or unnatural death. A coroner can also make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

 

Ardern said the Worksafe investigation could take a year, while the coronial inquiry was “also likely to continue for some time.”

 

The NZ$5 million support fund is expected to be distributed among businesses in Whakatane, the mainland coastal town that serves as the jumping off point for trips to Whakaari. Asked if operators of tours to the island would be among the beneficiaries, Ardern said that specifics had not yet been determined.

 

SEARCH ONGOING

 

At White Island, recovery teams again conducted aerial searches in a bid to locate the bodies of the last two people known to have been on the island.

 

Six bodies were retrieved from the island on Friday, and officials believe the remaining two bodies are now likely to be in the surrounding waters. Naval divers are scheduled to continue the search on Tuesday.

 

“We will continue the operation for as long as we have a chance of recovering those bodies,” New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told Radio New Zealand.

 

Many of dead and injured were Australians on a day tour from a Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCL.N) ship. The 16-deck Ovation of the Seas docked back in Sydney on Monday, with some passengers disembarking in tears as they were reunited with family members.

 

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with her New Zealand counterpart in Wellington on Monday to express Australia’s thanks to emergency and medical crews.

 

Legal experts said last week they expected to see lawsuits filed in the U.S. courts by injured passengers and families of those who died. Royal Caribbean’s potential liability for the deadly excursion could hinge on whether the eruption was an unforeseeable “act of God,” maritime lawyers told Reuters.

 

“We will to continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families during this difficult time,” a spokeswoman for the company said in an emailed statement on Monday.

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2019-12-16

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It's a <deleted> Volcano, why tempt fate by going anywhere near the place. Stupid world!

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Only because nobody wants to be holding the bag when the lawsuits come due.

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I believe that the island is owned by a family from Auckland who bought it back  in the 1930's. The tourist trade only commenced in the late 90's when the volcanic activity subsided from previous high levels.

The tour companies seemingly pay the family a substantial yearly fee to allow visits and, as a result, the tourist fees to visit the island are not cheap.

This is going to be a very interesting case in terms of ultimate liability of the recent sad happenings. The level of government oversight, if any, will also undoubtedly loom large.

There will be a number of likely defendants at both civil and criminal level who will likely be quaking in their shoes going into the upcoming legal action. And so they should. 

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This is interesting reading re insurance claims in NZ.

 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-12/new-zealand-whakaari-white-island-disaster-indemnity-insurance/11787816

 

"So in a sense, the people of New Zealand have given up the right to sue a wrongdoer for full compensation for their right to receive fair compensation without having to identify a wrongdoing."

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White island, looks like the top of a volcano, and if it was even slightly active, there

is no way I would even want to be insight of it.  Big Island, or Hawaii Island

is a big island with a volcano or 2 on it, and that is dangerous enough for me.

Geezer

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On 12/17/2019 at 12:19 AM, from the home of CC said:

criminal penalties? if there was no volcano do you think people would of visited the island to begin with?

Typical NZ government wanting to penalise people. That's their answer to everything and it makes me really PO. Unless one is a gang member, and then one can get away with anything, apparently.

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I think it's a matter of how actively a place is promoted or if there is any attempt to prevent people from going.   

 

If I am on a tour and they have a place on the tour, then I would generally believe that it is a reasonably safe destination.   This is especially true in a developed country like NZ.   

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On 12/17/2019 at 12:33 AM, khwaibah said:

This is one sad individual.😡

White Island eruption: mayor of Whakatāne wants tours to eventually resume

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/11/white-island-eruption-mayor-of-whakatane-wants-tours-to-eventually-resume

Tours ran for years, and can do again. Bad things happen, but the world doesn't end. People don't stop driving cars because ( far more than on White Island ) people die in road accidents, people didn't stop sailing on ships because the Titanic sank.

Tours on White Island will be more popular in future because of the events just past. That's what adventure tourism is about.

According to your philosophy we shouldn't do anything but hide under our beds, and even then we might be killed by a meteor falling on us.

Life is dangerous and the only certainty is death. Man up and live life, don't cower in fear of what might happen.

 

IMO, provided those tourists signed the waiver and understood they faced death, the company is blameless. WE must all accept responsibility for ourselves.

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5 minutes ago, Credo said:

I think it's a matter of how actively a place is promoted or if there is any attempt to prevent people from going.   

 

If I am on a tour and they have a place on the tour, then I would generally believe that it is a reasonably safe destination.   This is especially true in a developed country like NZ.   

The White Island experience was "adventure tourism", just like bungy jumping off a bridge. Of course it was dangerous- that's why people went. Why would the company try to stop people going? it's their business to take people there. It was actively promoted. I know people that have gone and loved it.

Everyone that went on the tour signed the waiver that presumably meant they understood it was dangerous and they could die if they went. If it can be proven they didn't understand that, there is a case against the company, but only if they didn't understand that.

 

However, I wonder if the company had insurance to pay the costs of the hospitalisation of non NZ people. Treatment is going to be ongoing, and take months if not years.

I can see that future tours of White Island may be stopped because insurance in the future will be too expensive.

Edited by thaibeachlovers
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8 hours ago, ripstanley said:

This is interesting reading re insurance claims in NZ.

 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-12/new-zealand-whakaari-white-island-disaster-indemnity-insurance/11787816

 

"So in a sense, the people of New Zealand have given up the right to sue a wrongdoer for full compensation for their right to receive fair compensation without having to identify a wrongdoing."

Accident compensation scheme. It's brilliant.

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