First charges laid over Whakaari tragedy almost a year on; regulator under scrutiny

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

Almost a year on from the fateful eruption of Whakaari that claimed the lives of 22 people with two bodies still to be found, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflects on the heartbreaking event and her first thoughts when she received the news.

"It still feels recent to me, " Ardern says. "I can't imagine what it's like for family members."

It's raw and real. "Grief is hard but in a tragedy of this nature it must be hard to comprehend what it must feel like," she says.

It was 2:11pm on Monday, December 9, 2019 - a time that many won't forget including the prime minister

"At first it wasn't entirely clear the scale of what had happened at Whakaari and then there was an indication that there were people there and then the sheer number of people. My first instinct was to get there and stay out of the way and see what they needed."

Te Ao Mārama's Waiariki correspondent spoke to a kuia who lost a mokopuna in the disaster. Her pain impossible to explain, she shared her first reactions when she heard the news of the eruption. 

WorkSafe review

"I was shocked and I was angry and I came in and dropped on the floor there, cried out to God to save him. I told God to save him," she said. "I was telling him to swim, just to swim."

Earlier this week charges were laid by WorkSafe against 13 parties in relation to the eruption of Whakaari. But Te Ao Mārama understands that a WorkSafe inspector was on the island only months before the eruption.

Te Ao Mārama asked the Ministry of  Business, which is in charge of WorkSafe, for an interview but it said that while the matter is before the courts it would be unavailable to comment. However, it did say it is undertaking a targeted review of the adventure activities regulatory regime.