Whakaari/White Island tragedy: WorkSafe lays charges against 13 parties after eruption that left 22 dead

WorkSafe has filed charges against 13 parties after an investigation into the Whakaari/White Island disaster.

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.

WorkSafe, New Zealand's workplace health and safety regulator, launched its investigation into the Whakaari/White Island disaster on December 11 - two days after the tragedy - and has now come to a decision.

Ten companies are facing a maximum fine of $1.5 million for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Nine face a Section 36 charge of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and others, while one other faces a charge under Section 36 or 37 relating to the duty of a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) that controls a workplace.

Three people will also face charges under Section 44 of the Act, which requires directors or individuals with significant influence of a company to exercise due diligence to ensure their companies meet health and safety obligations, and face a maximum fine of $300,000.

None of the charged parties are able to be named by WorkSafe, as they have right to seek name suppression at their first court appearance. However Volcanic Air, a scenic helicopter and floatplane airline, has revealed it is 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.

WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes is expected to confirm the details of the charges at a press conference from Wellington at 3pm on Monday.

WorkSafe's findings come just nine days before the one-year anniversary of the disaster. A public memorial will be held at 11:30am on December 9 at the Mataatua Reserve in Whakatāne to commemorate those who lost their lives.

Ngāti Awa, the iwi that owns White Island Tours, said in January that the tragedy will linger long in its memory.

"We continue to grieve with those who lost loved ones. Although there is little that can soothe such unfathomable pain, it is with heartfelt aroha and compassion we offer you our shelter, our tears and our embrace," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"Our thoughts also remain with those who were injured so terribly in the eruption and pray that their wounds - both physical and emotional - will heal swiftly and completely, in the hope they will eventually return to the lives they enjoyed before the tragedy."

A month after the tragedy, White Island Tours pivoted away from taking tour groups to Whakaari and now offers scenic trips to the pest-free island sanctuary Moutohorā, a few kilometres off the coast of Whakatāne.

No tours have operated to Whakaari/White Island in the year since the tragedy.

Documentary The Eruption: Stories of Survival aired on Three last week, telling the tales of those most-affected by the Whakaari/White Island disaster. It's still available to watch on ThreeNow here.