Whakaari/White Island: National Emergency Management Agency pleads not guilty during WorkSafe court hearing

The National Emergency Management Agency has entered a not guilty plea to a charge laid in after the Whakaari/White Island disaster.

A court hearing is underway in Whakatane on Thursday, almost a year and a half after the volcano erupted in December 2019, killing 22 people.

WorkSafe alleges 13 parties failed in their duty of care to visitors to the island.

The day started at Whakatane's courthouse with a mihi whakatau which was led by Tangata Whenua and the Ministry of Justice.

Judge Evangelos Thomas then started the proceedings at 10am by honouring those who lost their lives.

"By acknowledging those who continue to suffer here and around the world, our thoughts are with them all."

During the proceedings, the National Emergency Management Agency was the first to enter a plea - not guilty.

The other companies facing charges are Whakaari Management Ltd, Volcanic Air Safaris Ltd, White Island Tours Ltd, Kahu New Zealand Ltd, Aerius Ltd, ID Tours Ltd, Tauranga Tourism Services Ltd, and Inflite Charters Ltd, along with government agency GNS.

Three individuals - James, Peter, and Andrew Buttle - are also facing charges. The Buttle family owns the island and all three men are directors of Whakaari Management Ltd.

A date that the other parties must enter their pleas by is yet to be confirmed.