Enlarge image

Eruption on the volcanic island of Whakaari/White Island in December 2019

Photo: Michael Schade/AP

More than four years after the deaths of 22 people as a result of a volcanic eruption in New Zealand, a court has awarded millions of dollars in compensation to the victims' families and survivors.

25 visitors were also injured in the eruption on the volcanic island of Whakaari/White Island in December 2019.

In total, the 47 affected families from three companies should receive ten million New Zealand dollars (5.6 million euros) in compensation, a judge at the District Court in Auckland ruled on Friday.

Insufficient security information

"The safety information that the tour operators provided to their paying customers was completely inadequate and did not adequately inform paying customers about the dangers, risks and consequences of an outbreak," said the judge.

It was the first fatal eruption of the 320 meter high Whakaari volcano since 1914. The Fire Mountain had been increasingly active for some time, but boats with tourists continued to travel to the island.

The tour group that was there at the time of the outbreak included visitors from Germany, Australia, China, Malaysia, the USA and Great Britain.

Most of the fatalities come from Australia.

A German died

A 64-year-old German died from his injuries seven months after the accident in July 2020.

Three Germans were injured.

The owner of the island, Whakaari Management, and White Island Tours, the provider that brought the excursionists to the island by boat, must bear the majority of the compensation.

The helicopter operator Volcanic Air Safaris has to pay a smaller share.

All three companies and two other tour providers were also sentenced to fines.

“Symbolic recognition of this suffering”

»Very few escaped the eruption without serious injuries.

For the others, the suffering was immense,” said the judge when announcing the verdict.

"There is no way to measure the emotional suffering that survivors and affected families have suffered and will continue to suffer." In a case like this, reparation can only be a symbolic recognition of this suffering.

Labor inspectorate Worksafe's prosecutor had said during the hearing that the tour operators had indicated they were unable to pay the fines, but the judge argued that the fines should be imposed even if they were not paid.

The five affected companies were either in liquidation, no longer in business, in weak financial condition or had no assets, the ruling said.

New Zealand lies on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, the most geologically active zone on earth.

Whakaari/White Island is considered the most active volcano in the Pacific state.

The volcanic island is located almost 50 kilometers off the New Zealand east coast.