On December 9th, 2019, the volcano on White Island, New Zealand, erupted while 47 tourists were visiting the Island at the time. Of those, 18 have officially been declared dead, 17 sustained serious burns, and 8 people are missing and presumed dead per publicly available reports. The small Island volcano is privately owned by an Auckland family trust, and as such, only operators with permits were authorized to accompany tourists on guided tours of the Island. White Island Tours was reportedly one of the main authorized tour companies on White Island at the time. The only way to and from the Island is via small inflatable dinghies with tour costs ranging from $229 per adult by boat, to $730 a passenger by helicopter. Tourists on the Island at the time were from Germany, Australia, the UK, China, Malaysia and New Zealand – and 9 people from the United States. New reports indicate that an estimated 38 guests and crew from of the mega cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, were on the Island at the time of the disaster. Last week a New Zealand police Commissioner announced they had launched a criminal investigation into the disaster.
This disaster raises serious question why tourists and passengers were allowed, and even encouraged (through brochures and advertising, etc.), to visit this active volcano under existing circumstances. To answer this question, below find historical facts and recommendations from recognized experts (both before and after the December 9th, 2019 eruption).
In a recent article, Monash University professor, Ray Cas, reported Whakaari-White Island is too risky for tourists. “White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years. Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited Island volcano by boat and helicopter… In a big volcanic incident, it would be impossible to get people off quickly,” says Professor Cas.