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  • Paora Manuel

Six Organisations Fined Over $2 Million, Whakaari Eruption Victims Awarded Over $10 Million In Reparations

Six parties have been fined for health and safety failures, that happened before the 2019 Whakaari White Island eruption.

The eruption killed 22 people and injured 25 others - many suffering serious injuries.

Whakaari Management Limited has been fined $1.046 million and ordered to pay $4.88 million in reparations to survivors and victim's families.

White Island Tours was fined $517,000 for its two charges and must pay $5 million in reparations.

White Island Tours had 38 tourists and four workers on the island when it erupted.

Volcanic Air was fined $468,750 for its two charges and must pay $330,000 in reparation.

Aerius was fined $290,000 and Kahu was fined $196,000. Both faced two charges each.

Altogether, the fines and reparations add up to a total of $2.3 million and $10.2 million respectively.

Judge Evangelos Thomas said a similar eruption in 2016 at night, was a key moment in risk.

Judge Thomas said all systems, audits, and agencies involved in Whakaari failed.

He said the fact the 2016 eruption had no casualties was nothing more than "luck of timing."

"All defendants should have paused and recognised they could not rely on whatever they understood was in place. Instead, tours simply continued as scheduled."

He said it was a gross failure in risk assessment if a defendant did not fully appreciate - or take steps to fully appreciate - the significance of the 2016 eruption.

"Nature does not often provide us with this kind of valuable warning. The defendants’ failure to properly heed it has very directly and significantly contributed to the tragedy that occurred on 9 December 2019," Thomas said.

Judge Thomas said the victim's stories had been "heartbreaking, but they have also been inspiring."

"It has been a humble privilege to hear them. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say, 'I wish you very well," Judge Thomas said.

Judge Thomas said he did not measure emotional harm, compare suffering, or differentiate between survivors and families of the deceased when awarding reparations.

"To do any of that would be both artificial and insulting to the harm and loss that people have endured," Judge Thomas said.

GNS Science was fined $54,000 for failing to tell helicopter pilots about the risks of flying its staff to the island.

GNS conducted qualitative risk assessments, to help decide it was safe to visit the island.

But Judge Thomas said GNS did not have a process to formally share what was in those assessments with the helicopter pilots.

"While GNS scientists on the island were aware of the risks and exclusion zones, there was no formal process for the helicopter pilots to have that same knowledge."

The fines did not relate to the events of the eruption or the rescue efforts.


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