A New Zealand military team has recovered six bodies from White Island, whose volcano erupted this week, killing many of the 47 people who were touring the island at the time. Many of the sightseers were on a day trip from cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, which had set off from Sydney on December 4th.
The bomb disposal squad were dressed in gas masks and hazmat suits as they undertook the rescue on Friday. As yet they have been unable to retrieve two of the eight bodies. The six recovered bodies were taken to a naval patrol vessel for transfer to the mainland for disaster victim identification. The death toll has now risen to 15, with more than 30 injured, some of them critically.
White Island Tours tour company was reported to be liable to a fine of up to US$1m for helping to arrange for 24 passengers to visit the crater before it erupted. The company could also be ordered to pay reparations potentially running into millions of dollars after New Zealand’s WorkSafe regulator announced a probe into the disaster.
WorkSafe, the public body responsible for enforcing New Zealand’s Health and Safety Act, announced Tuesday that it was investigating the disaster on White Island which involved White Island Tours. It will have 12 months to complete its investigation. It could then decide to prosecute the company for failing to keep its staff and guests safe.
Royal Caribbean, the cruise company that took the passengers on the trip from Ovation of the Seas, could also face additional lawsuits in America, where it is based.
The insurance situation is unusual because of New Zealand’s no-fault compensation system, which is unlike any other state insturance system in the world.
New Zealand’s compensation act sees payouts being made by the government, with no need to prove that any person or company was at fault. However, the payments are capped.
Insurance lawyer Graeme Christie told the New Zealand Herald that legal action would more likely be taken in the USA, thus avoiding the cap in New Zealand. The level of personal injury claims in the US could run into the tens of millions of US dollars, if fault is found.
Royal Caribbean has neither confirmed nor denied whether it organized the volcano tour itself, or whether it sub-contracted the organization of the tour to another firm.
RCL said that “we grieve this tragic loss. We will to continue to offer our support and services to the families during this difficult time.”