Australian families who lost loved ones in New Zealand’s Whakaari White Island volcano eruption more than three years ago are a step closer to finding answers, with the start today of a trial related to the disaster.
WorkSafe New Zealand is prosecuting the island’s owners and tourism companies over the natural disaster which killed 22 people, including 17 Australians, on December 9, 2019.
The judge-only trial is scheduled to run for 16 weeks in Auckland District Court.
The charges were brought under New Zealand’s Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and allege failures to take adequate steps to prevent serious injury or death. The defendants face fines of up to $1.5 million ($AU1.39 million).
The country’s workplace health and safety regulator laid the charges against 13 parties at the end of 2020. White Island Tours, Inflite Charters, GNS Science, Volcanic Air Safaris, Aerius Limited and Kahu New Zealand Limited have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentence.
Charges were dismissed against the National Emergency Management Agency.
The trial involves the remaining six parties: island owners James, Peter and Andrew Buttle, and their company Whakaari Management Limited; ID Tours New Zealand and Tauranga Tourism Services.
A livestream of the trial is available, but only for certain participants including defendants, lawyers, survivors and victims and their families, and accredited media.
A coronial inquiry into the disaster is ongoing.