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Wellington, July 11 – A landmark trial began in New Zealand on Tuesday in connection to the deadly White Island volcano disaster in 2019 which claimed the lives of 22 people.
Twenty-two people died when the country’s most active volcano suddenly erupted on December 9, 2019 after it had been showing signs of unrest for weeks, reports the BBC.
But tour operators were unprepared for such a disaster.
Six parties face fines of up to NZ$1.5 million ($928,000; £724,000) if found guilty.
At the time of the eruption, 47 people were on White Island.
The victims included 17 people from Australia, three from the US, and two from New Zealand.
Twenty-five people were also injured, many suffering critical burns.
The disaster prompted the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by WorkSafe NZ, the nation’s main health and safety regulator.
In December 2020, 13 parties were initially charged with exposing people to risk of harm under the health and safety act, reports the BBC.
They were accused of failing to assess and mitigate risks, to adequately inform tourists of the dangers, and to provide protective equipment.
White Island Tours, which was responsible for the safety of all except one of those killed, is among the companies which have admitted the charges.
Six defendants remain, including members of the Buttle family, who have owned White Island since 1936.
Peter, James and Andrew Buttle, the three brothers who inherited the island, have been charged in their roles as directors of Whakaari Management — which granted licences to tour operators and also faces charges at a company level.
ID Tours New Zealand Limited and Tauranga Tourism Services Limited are also contesting their charges in court.
The trial is expected to last four months.
Tourists have not returned to White Island since the tragedy.
The volcano had been erupting in some form since 2011, and was rated at Volcanic Alert Level 2 at the time of the disaster, indicating “moderate to heightened volcanic unrest”.