NZ fines $10 million to White Island managers

A New Zealand court has ruled that tour booking agents and managers of White Island, the site of a volcanic eruption that claimed 22 lives in 2019, must pay survivors over NZ$10 million ($6.1 million) and face fines totaling around NZ$2.6 million. The court found that the tour operators, including White Island Tours, Volcanic Air Safaris, Kahu New Zealand, and Aerius, along with the island’s corporate owner, Whakaari Management Ltd, failed to adequately ensure the safety of visitors.

The volcanic eruption on December 9, 2019, took place while 47 people were on White Island, also known as Whakaari. The survivors suffered severe burns from scorching gas and ash, with the majority of the victims being international tourists from countries such as Australia, the US, and Malaysia.

In the judgment from the District Court of Auckland, Whakaari Management was ordered to pay compensation of NZ$4.88 million, White Island Tours to pay NZ$5 million, and Volcanic Air Safaris NZ$330,000. The court emphasized that the safety information provided to paying customers was grossly inadequate, failing to sufficiently inform them about the hazards and risks associated with an eruption.

While the tour operators claimed they lacked the financial means to pay fines, the court still imposed penalties. However, the judgment noted that the companies involved were either in liquidation, no longer trading, financially weak, or lacked assets. White Island Tours and VASL have insurance cover of NZ$5 million and NZ$300,000, respectively, to contribute towards reparations to victims, though the ability to pay the remaining fines and compensation remains uncertain for all five companies.

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