Royal Caribbean takes legal action against White Island survivors to stop them suing in US courts

The cruise company Royal Caribbean has launched legal action against the survivors of the Whakaari/White Island disaster in a bid to stop them suing in the United States.

The company applied to Australia's federal court last week seeking a ruling prohibiting the victims and their families from moving ahead with lawsuits in the United States, The Guardian reports.

Forty-seven people were on Whakaari/White Island when it erupted in December last year. Most of them were exploring the island on a day trip from the cruise ship the Ovation of the Seas, which is owned by Royal Caribbean.

Twenty-two people died in the tragedy, while those who survived suffered severe injuries as a result of the burns they received.

The latest legal development comes after American couple Ivy and Paul Reed, who suffered severe burns in the tragedy, and Australians Marie and Stephanie Browitt, who lost family in the eruption, launched separate legal proceedings in the United States seeking damages for the disaster.

They accused Royal Caribbean of failing in its duty to keep passengers safe by allowing a trip to the volcanic island despite warning signs, according to The Guardian.

The Browitts filed their lawsuit in Florida under the state's wrongful death laws. They allege the cruise company either knew or should have known the danger posed by the volcano, and yet sold tickets for the excursion in any case.

"The sale of any tickets to the island was outrageous conduct, and nothing short of selling a ticket to play Russian roulette," the Browitts alleged in the lawsuit, The Guardian reports.

"This conduct was indecently cavalier, outside the bounds of decency and so reckless that it should not be tolerated in civilised society."

Although Royal Caribbean has not filed any defence to either case, they claim that due to the terms and conditions of the tickets, any legal action can only take place in courts in New South Wales, Australia.

The families, however, are disputing this, with Peter Gordon, the Australian lawyer for the Browitts telling The Guardian the family "didn't get a contract that said anything about where suits should be litigated".

A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean told The Guardian their thoughts were with all those affected by the tragedy but said the company didn't comment on pending inquiries.