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White Island Volcano Victims Awarded Compensation

WorldWhite Island Volcano Victims Awarded Compensation

More than four years after dozens of people were injured or killed in a devastating volcanic eruption on White Island, off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, victims and their families have been awarded a total of about 10.2 million New Zealand dollars, or roughly $6.2 million.

Speaking at the Auckland District Court on Friday, Judge Evangelos Thomas ordered that reparations be paid to victims by three New Zealand tourism companies: White Island Tours, the helicopter company Volcanic Air Safaris and Whakaari Management Limited, which owns the island.

“I adopt an individual general sum of 250,000 New Zealand dollars,” or around $150,000 per person, Judge Thomas said. That figure could be adjusted for those who had experienced particular hardship, he added, including children who had lost their parents.

“Reparation can be no more than a token recognition of the emotional harm,” he added.

It comes after Judge Thomas ruled in October that Whakaari Management had breached a law that required it to ensure that those visiting the active volcano, also known by its Maori name, Whakaari, were not put at risk. The company had made insufficient efforts to conduct risk assessments or engage with experts to minimize the potential danger to tourists, he said at the time.

The volcano erupted on Dec. 9, 2019, killing 22 people and injuring 25 others, all of whom were on tour groups as members or guides. Seventeen of those who died were Australian citizens.

Witnesses at the time described the eruption as resembling “a nuclear bomb going off,” according to RNZ, the country’s national broadcaster.

WorkSafe, a New Zealand government regulator, later charged 13 organizations and individuals for failing to meet workplace health and safety obligations for averting risk. All of these businesses were later convicted of health and safety failings, but only the three companies cited by Judge Thomas were ordered to pay reparations.

In a statement after the sentencing, Steve Haszard, the chief executive of WorkSafe, said that the events had changed “our national understanding” on the requirements of businesses to keep people safe.

“Whakaari is a catastrophic example of what can go wrong when they don’t,” he said, adding: “People put their faith in the businesses involved in these trips. But they were not properly informed about the risks, and they were not kept safe.”


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