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Whakaari/White Island Eruption: Over $10m Compensation For Victims

Victims of the Whakaari/White Island eruption and their families have been awarded more than $10 million in total reparations.

In the Auckland District Court on Friday, Judge Evangelos Thomas delivered sentences for five companies that took tourists to the volcanic island before the fatal eruption in 2019.

Twenty-two people died in the eruption and 25 others were injured.

He said reparations would be paid by the islands' owner Whakaari Management Limited, White Island Tours and the helicopter company Volcanic Air Safaris.

"I adopt an individual general sum of $250,000," Judge Thomas said.

"That calculation provides for total reparation of $10.21 million."

Judge Thomas said the exact reparation amounts would be tweaked in some cases.

"I make certain adjustments to recognise those who died leaving behind dependant children, other families whose children suffered serious emotional distress, families who lost more than one loved one, those survivors who also lost family members, and the few who were fortunate enough to escape without any serious injury."

He said each of the five companies involved had failed in their duties to assess and mitigate risk.


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"None of the defendants had any volcanology expertise, they had to get risk assessments done by the appropriately qualified people," he said.

"That failure [to do so] compromised everything else they did. That failure exposed others to risk of serious injury and death."

Whakaari Management Limited was fined $1.045 million and ordered to pay $4.88 million in reparations to all of the victims and their families.

White Island Tours, which took visitors to the island via boat, was fined $517,000 and ordered to pay $5 million in reparations to the victims involved in its tours.

                                                               Judge Evangelos Thomas. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Volcanic Air Safaris Ltd, one of three helicopter operators that conducted tours, was fined $506,000 and ordered to pay $330,000 in reparations to the victims involved in its tours.

Volcanic Air Safaris was the only helicopter operator on the island when it erupted.

Two other operators, Aerius and Kahu NZ, were fined $290,000 and $196,000 respectively but were not ordered to pay reparations.

The sixth guilty party, GNS Science, would receive its sentence later on Friday.


'Today belongs to the survivors'


WorkSafe chief executive Steve Haszard said the victim impact statements delivered in court had showed the impact of the eruption was "far wider" than just the people who were on the island.

"Today belongs to the survivors, and the whānau and friends of those who were harmed or lost their lives," he said.

"One impact has been to raise our national understanding about the obligations on businesses to do everything they can to keep people safe. Whakaari is a catastrophic example of what can go wrong when they don't."

The companies' actions on the day of the eruption put people's lives in jeopardy, Haszard said.

"People put their faith in the businesses involved in these trips. But they were not properly informed about the risks, and they were not kept safe."

WorkSafe had a duty to hold businesses to account over the tragedy, Haszard said.

He described it as "one of the worst natural disasters in Aotearoa".

All of the businesses that had control over the island or that took visitors to the island had been convicted of health and safety failings, he noted.

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