Victims to sue cruise liner over eruption
Family members and victims of the deadly volcanic eruption at New Zealand's White Island will pursue legal action against Royal Caribbean cruise line for alleged negligence, breach of contract, and breach of Australian consumer law.
In a Four Corners investigation, which will air on the ABC on Monday, it is understood that law firm Stacks Goudkamp has been hired by a group of passengers and family members to pursue legal action in Australia against the cruise operator.
The law suit comes after 21 people died while visiting the island when it erupted, 19 of which were passengers on board the Ovation of the Seas, which is owned by Royal Caribbean. A total of 38 Ovation of the Seas passengers had been on the island at the time of the incident.
While New Zealand have a no fault accident compensation scheme, meaning legal action cannot be pursued there, the passengers who are part of the legal action signed the cruise contract while in Australia.
Lawyer Rita Yousef told the investigation that the deadly eruption had a horrific impact on passengers and family members, but also that they were given no information about the dangers of visiting the island from the ship.
"People have lost loved ones. They had to witness them in hospital having been completely burnt, being completely unrecognisable from their horrific burns, and people are having to somehow pick up the pieces," she said.
"They were told in the brochure that all they needed to do if they were attending this tour was to wear enclosed shoes."
Following the eruption, many passengers from the cruise ship claimed they were not warned about the danger levels that had been recorded just weeks prior on the island.
Before the eruption on December 9 last year, scientists had noted an increase in volcanic activity in the weeks leading up to the deadly event. The increased warning raised questions as to why visitors were allowed to tour the island regardless.
Venessa Lugo, who was a passenger on Ovation of the Seas, said the cruise provided information about the White Island day trip - but did not detail the raised danger level.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, the 24-year-old said the forms to visit the island simply asked about pre-existing medical conditions and that visitors would be provided with a gas mask because the tour included "strenuous activity".
"But it definitely didn't specify the possibility of (the volcano) going off," she said.
Ms Yousef told Four Corners that the lack of warning from Royal Caribbean shows the cruise line didn't provide passengers with correct information about the tour.
"At the very least, Royal Caribbean, which held itself out to be responsible for this tour, should have been monitoring this, and communicating with participants as to the risk, and giving them the choice, an informed choice to decide not to go because of this risk," she said.
"But what appears (to have) happened is that nobody (at Royal Caribbean) was monitoring or taking this level seriously."
Ms Yousef claims family members of those on board the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship were only told about the eruption hours later, and some claim they found out through news outlets rather than the cruise provider.
"There are accounts of people who were left in the dark for many hours while their loved ones were in hospital," Ms Yousef said.
"People are having to somehow pick up the pieces in terms of figuring out how to live their lives without, for example, a main breadwinner who's now gone."
News.com.au has contacted Royal Caribbean for comment.
Four Corners will air at 8.30pm on Monday on ABC TV or live stream on the Four Corners Facebook page.