New Zealand officials have charged 10 organizations and three individuals for allowing tourists to continue touring White Island ahead of a 2019 volcanic eruption that killed 22 despite clear signs of seismic activity in the weeks leading up to the eruption.
The December 9 blast occurred while 47 tourists were on the island, which is the peak of an underwater volcano. Twenty-two of the visitors – 14 Australian, five American, two New Zealanders, and one German – were killed when the volcano on the island erupted. Most of the surviving 25 individuals suffered severe burns.
Many of the deceased had been sailing from Australia onboard the Royal Caribbean ship Ovation of the Seas.
New Zealand's WorkSafe agency brought the charges against the organizations and individuals, saying there had been a considerable alert of seismic activity near the volcano two weeks before it erupted.
The accused include the research institute GNS Science, the National Emergency Management Agency, and private tour companies. Due to New Zealand law, the names of some of the organizations and individuals has been withheld.
The accused organizations face a maximum fine of $1.1 million and the accused individuals face a maximum fine of $211,000.
A separate criminal investigation by police, as well as lawsuits from affected family members, could result in additional fines and charges.
"At this time, I know all New Zealanders' thoughts are with the families and those who experienced loss or injury," said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. "There is no easy process from here. But it is the job of WorkSafe to make sure that if there are questions to be answered, that they play a role in leading the charge on that."
The charged organizations and individuals are scheduled to appear in court on December 15.