Whakaari eruption: Charge against National Emergency Management Agency dismissed

12:03 pm on 4 May 2022

A charge accusing the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) of health and safety breaches leading up to the Whakaari/White Island tragedy has been dismissed.

The Whakaari / White Island mission to recover bodies of the victims.

Photo: NZDF

Twenty-two people died from burns and blast injuries after the submarine volcano erupted in December 2019.

NEMA was one of 13 parties WorkSafe charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act at the island.

WorkSafe said the central government agency did not appropriately communicate risks to the land-owners and public.

The charge carried a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.

At a two-day hearing earlier this month, NEMA argued that WorkSafe "confused civil defence emergency management with health and safety risk management" and the charge was "wholly misconceived".

Judge Evangelos Thomas dismissed the charge in the Auckland District Court this morning.

He also told the court WorkSafe's main objective was to "promote and contribute to securing the health and safety of workers and workplaces".

"Part of that role that it has then, would be to issue guidance to the marketplace."

He said in terms of tourism at Whakaari: "WorkSafe does not advance any evidence of any guidance WorkSafe has issued to anyone based on a duty to people beyond workplaces, workers or work activity."

In March, the charter flight company Inflite pleaded guilty to risk assessment failures.

Judge Thomas fined the company $227,500 and ordered it to pay prosecution costs of $40,000.

The other 11 parties have pleaded not guilty and go to trial next year.

There were 47 people on the volcano when it erupted, most of them international tourists.