Nov. 30 (UPI) -- New Zealand on Monday charged 10 organizations and three people following an investigation into the 22 deaths in a volcanic eruption on White Island.
WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkes announced the charges during a press conference on Monday, stating the 13 parties charged failed to meet their obligations under the law when tour operators transported 47 people to the island shortly before it unexpectedly erupted on Dec. 9.
"This was an unexpected event, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable and there is a duty on operators to protect those in their care," he said.
The 10 organizations face charges under the Safety at Work Act of 2015, each of which carry a maximum fine of $1.1 million.
The three individuals were charged under a section of the act that requires directors or individuals with "significant influence over a company" to exercise due diligence concerning health and safety obligations. Each charge carries a maximum fine of about $220,000.
"There were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruption, all of whom suffered serious injuries and trauma, and 22 of those have lost their lives," Parkes said during the press conference. "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."
The names of those charged will not released by WorkeSafe until the conclusion of litigation, the watchdog said, stating it is up to those charged to decide if they want to take the prosecution public.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters during a press conference that government agencies GNS Science, which monitors seismic activity, and the National Emergency Management Agency confirmed that they were among those charged to be fully transparent with the public.
"In terms of the decision by WorkSafe, it is an independent decision for them as to where and whom charges will be laid with," she said. "Really, we need to leave it at that. We need this to be an independent process that people can have trust, confidence and faith in."
She said she is aware that not only are they coming up to the one-year anniversary of the tragedy but also the time limit under which charges could be laid and she knows that all of the thoughts of New Zealanders are with the victims.
"There is no easy process from here," she said. "But it is the job of WorkSafe to make sure if there are questions to be answered that they play a role in leading the charge on that."
GNS Science confirmed in a statement that it has been charged though it said it is unaware of the nature of the charges.
"We will take some time to consider our next steps given the broader implications," the statement read. "We stand by our people and our science -- which we will continue to deliver for the benefit of NZ."
Forty-seven people, including foreign tourists, were on White Island, known locally as Whakaari, when it erupted Dec. 9, killing 22 people and severely injuring many others.
Following the eruption, a rescue operation was launched for those stranded on the island. Among the deceased, the bodies of two people were not recovered.
WorkSafe said it did not investigate the rescue and recovery operations.