"Those who went to the island, did so with the reasonable expectation that there were appropriate systems in place to ensure they made it home healthy and safe," a New Zealand government agency said Monday. Instead, 22 of the 47 people who were on White Island when a volcano erupted in December 2019 were killed. The agency, WorkSafe, has now filed charges against 10 organizations and three people in the deaths, NPR reports. Nine of the groups are accused of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and others, and the 10th of failing to control a workplace. The maximum fine in each case is about $1 million US. The three people are charged with not exercising due diligence concerning health and safety, and could be fined lesser amounts. None of the charges involve the emergency response, which WorkSafe didn't assess.
"This deeply tragic event was unexpected, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable," WorkSafe's chief executive said in a national address, "and there is a duty on operators to protect those in their care." Children and retirees were among the visitors to the island—whose Maori name is Whakaari—that day. Everyone who was there suffered "serious injuries and trauma," the agency said, including major burns to their skin and lungs. Tours have since been suspended to the island, which is about 30 miles off the north-northeast coast of New Zealand. Shortly before the eruption, the agency that monitors geological activity there, GeoNet, raised its warning level to 2, on a 5-point scale, after seeing increased activity. "The volcano had been showing signs of unrest for several weeks," the US Geological Survey said. (Read more volcano eruption stories.)