Wellington (AFP) – A New Zealand judge on Wednesday cleared the national emergency management agency of safety lapses related to the 2019 eruption of the White Island volcano, which killed 22 people.
Nearly 50 people, mostly Australian tourists, were on the island, also known as Whakaari, when ash and steam from a volcanic vent burned.
The eruption killed 22 people and injured 25 others, some of whom suffered horrific injuries.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was among 13 parties charged with violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Regulator WorkSafe New Zealand said the agency failed to properly communicate blowout risks to property owners and the public.
But an Auckland District Court judge dismissed the charges against the Crown agency.
The agency’s attorneys successfully argued that the charge was “completely misguided.”
Judge Evangelos Thomas agreed that the agency could not be held liable under New Zealand occupational health and safety law.
“NEMA didn’t do any physical work on Whakaari, they didn’t send workers to Whakaari, they never placed anyone on Whakaari,” he said.
“Today’s hearing is not about whether NEMA did its job properly – it may have, it may not. It it’s just whether WorkSafe can use this particular law to sue NEMA.”
Eleven other parties have pleaded not guilty and will be tried next year.
Last week, charter flight company Inflite admitted to failing risk assessments.
The company was fined NZ$227,500 (US$147,000) and ordered to pay prosecution costs.
© 2022 AFP