GNS, National Emergency Management Agency among parties charged over Whakaari/White Island disaster

Government agencies GNS Science and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) are among the organisations facing charges over the Whakaari/White Island eruption, it's been revealed.

Forty-seven people were on the active volcano off the coast of Whakatāne when it erupted on December 9, 2019. Of those, 22 died and 25 others survived but suffered severe injuries.

On Monday morning, it was revealed WorkSafe, New Zealand's workplace health and safety regulator, had charged 13 parties - ten organisations and three individuals - in relation to the tragedy.

The organisations face a maximum fine of $1.5 million for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act, while the individuals could be fined as much as $300,000 for failing to exercise due diligence to ensure their companies meet health and safety obligations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday GNS and NEMA have acknowledged these charges and won't be seeking name suppression, which is why they named themselves. 

"The reason you've seen both of those entities being fully transparent around the fact that they are amongst those charged is because in the first blush, time is allowed for individuals to make the decision as to whether or not they give that information in case they wish to seek name suppression," Ardern told reporters.

"Those agencies will not - and so for full transparency, they are sharing that."

She said it was an "independent decision" by WorkSafe to lay charges.

"We need to leave it at that, we need this to be an independent process that people can have trust, confidence, and faith in."

GNS said in a statement it has been advised it faces charges, but doesn't know the nature of them at this stage.

"We will take some time to consider our next steps given the broader implications. We stand by our people and our science - which we will continue to deliver for the benefit of New Zealand," it said.

"We will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities, while carrying on with the crucial role GNS Science has in monitoring and sharing scientific information about Aotearoa New Zealand's geohazards, including volcanoes."

NEMA confirmed it has been charged by WorkSafe, but said it wouldn't comment further until the process "has run its course".

Meanwhile White Island Tours Ltd said it has been charged with two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act, but that no employees or directors had been charged.

"At the time [of the eruption] we expressed our heartfelt condolences to the families in New Zealand and abroad that lost their loved ones, and we continue to include them in our prayers," chairperson Paul Quinn said.

"Similarly, to the survivors, we continue to offer our love and support."

The owners of the island have also confirmed that they are among those charged over the disaster. 

 A lawyer for the family said they will not be making any further comment at this time. 

"Whakaari Management Limited is a private company associated with the family ownership of the island and which granted licences to the operators that undertook tours to the island," the lawyer said in a statement. 

"They will not be making further comment while the legal proceedings continue, other than to express their sorrow for those who have suffered as a result of the tragedy."

Earlier on Monday, Volcanic Air - a scenic helicopter and floatplane airline - revealed it is also among the charged parties. The company was informed on Monday morning that it was to be charged, but said it hadn't received any additional details.

"We will take some time to consider the charges before making any comment," it told Newshub.

A preliminary hearing will be held at Auckland District Court on December 15, 2020, with a second court hearing likely in 2021.