Accused in NZ volcano disaster make first court appearance

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Thirteen defendants charged by New Zealand’s workplace regulator in relation to a deadly volcanic eruption more than a year ago made their first appearance in court on Friday.

Twenty-two people died and dozens were injured when the volcano off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island erupted in December 2019.

There were 47 people, mostly tourists, on the volcano on White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, at the time.

Worksafe, New Zealand’s primary regulator for workplace-related incidents, says the 13 parties did not meet their health and safety obligations in taking the tourists to White Island.

Under the charges, 10 organisations each face a maximum fine of NZ$1.5 million ($1.06 million), while three individuals, in their capacity as directors, could be fined up to $300,000 each.

Some of the parties include White Island Tours, Whakaari Management, GNS Science and The National Emergency Management Agency.

No pleas were entered at the court in Auckland and the next hearing was scheduled for June.

Reporting by James Redmayne in Sydney; editing by Neil Fullick