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Tourists received no safety warnings before New Zealand volcano eruption killed 22, says prosecutor

AP – Tourists received no health and safety warnings before they landed on New Zealand’s most active volcano ahead of a 2019 eruption that killed 22 people, a prosecutor said.

There were 47 people on White Island, the tip of an undersea volcano also known by its Indigenous Maori name, Whakaari, when superheated gases erupted on December 9. Most of the 25 people who survived were severely burned.

The island’s owners, brothers Andrew, James and Peter Buttle, their company Whakaari Management Ltd, and tour operators ID Tours NZ Ltd and Tauranga Tourism Services Ltd went on trial yesterday in Auckland District Court for allegedly failing to adequately protect tourists and staff.

Prosecutor Kristy McDonald said in opening the prosecution case that the eruption at the popular tourist destination was not predictable but was foreseeable. The 20 tourists and two tour guides who died were given no warning of the risks, she said.

“They were not given the opportunity to make any informed decision about whether they wanted to take the risk of walking into the crater of an active and unpredictable volcano that had erupted as recently as 2016,” McDonald said.

“The business of tourism on Whakaari was a risky business. It involved tours to an active volcano, taking people to the heart of the crater in circumstances where no one could predict when an eruption might occur, and if an eruption did occur, those on Whakaari were likely to die or suffer very serious injury. And tragically, that risk was realised,” she said.

Of those killed, 14 were Australians, five were Americans, two were New Zealanders and one was German.

McDonald said the company that owned the volcano – Whakaari Management Ltd, which she called WML – failed to understand the risk, failed to consult with tour operators on the hazards, failed to ensure appropriate personal protective equipment was provided to tourists and staff, and failed to provide an adequate means of evacuation.

Prosecutor Kristy McDonald addresses a court in Auckland, New Zealand. PHOTO: AP