Sydney, Australia, Jul 10 (EFE).- A New Zealand court on Tuesday began the trial against three tourism companies and the owners of an island where Whakaari/White Island volcano erupted in 2019, killing 22 people.
Brothers Andrew, James and Peter Buttle, who own the private island through a trust, as well as their company and two other tourism businesses are defending charges brought by Worksafe NZ over alleged health and safety regulation failings in the lead-up to the volcano’s eruption in 2019.
The three businesses are Whakaari Management, run by the Buttles, and tour operators ID Tours New Zealand and Tauranga Tourism Services.
If found guilty during the judge-only trial at Auckland District Court, which will last 16 weeks, the defendants could face fines of up to NZ$1.5 million (about $932,000).
“Our main thing is that the owners of the island were charged, and that they’re held accountable and the tour company,” Meredith Dallow, who lost her brother Gavin and his 15-year-old stepdaughter Zoe Hosking in the tragedy, told Australian public broadcaster ABC.
Gavin’s wife and Zoe’s mother was placed in an induced coma with severe burns.
“No-one should have been there that day. No-one should have been on the island full stop,” Dallow said.
Whakaari, one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes, erupted while on Alert 2 (out of 5) for mild volcanic activity and while 47 people, most of them international tourists, were visiting the crater on Dec. 9, 2019.
In 2020, Worksafe NZ filed lawsuits against 10 entities – some of them governmental – and three individuals for health and safety breaches in the lead-up to the tragedy that also left 25 people seriously injured.
Since then, six have pleaded guilty, while one had its charge dismissed. EFE