Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there will be an inquiry into the tragedy at Whakaari/White Island, however, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin says no decisions have been made about what form that will take. —Newshub, 12 December 2019

Time for action

By Roger Childs

White Island 1The announcement last week that the last two missing people from the White Island eruption tragedy have been confirmed dead, brings the final toll to 20. Many people will be wondering whether anything is happening to investigate the disaster and hold people to account.

The police did not handle matters well in the immediate aftermath, and sent mixed messages to the public. At the first official press conference there was mention of a “criminal investigation” but this upset a number of people especially White Island Tours owned by Ngati Awa. The police them backtracked and the word criminal disappeared from statements. It is to be hoped this was not done because the tour operators are Maori.

Things seem to have gone quiet on what is happening regarding an inquiry/investigation, but surely, as with the Pike River disaster of 2010 which killed 29, there should be a Royal Commission? 

An avoidable tragedy 

White IslandThe White Island disaster of 9 December 2019 could have been avoided and consequently the tour operators need to be brought to justice. Now that a final death toll of 20 has been confirmed, it is time for the government to act.

A week before the catastrophe a GNS scientist had cautioned that White Island was entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal. On a scale of five the danger level went up from 1 to 2, however, the operators say that was still inside their safety guidelines. Nevertheless, that increase put the danger up from 20% to 40% — surely too high to risk lives in a potentially explosive and lethal situation? 

There are many questions to be answered and a key one is: were the operators – Ngati Awa — just too hungry for the big bucks the tourists were prepared to part with for experience of getting close to an active volcano? The luxury liner, Ovation of the Seas, was only in port for the day, so the opportunity for companies to take visitors out to White Island was seemingly to good to miss.

Another important question for the investigation is who made the decision? In hindsight it was a disastrous choice and one wonders if the boat operators on approaching the volcano noticed any telltale signs of danger in the colour of the water, volcanic noise and the level of steam activity on the island? 

The public both here and in Australia need answers as to why 20 people died as a consequence of risks not being heeded and poor decision making.