The owners of Ovation Of The Seas can be sued over the deaths and injuries of passengers caught up in the eruption of White Island by those who bought their cruise tickets in the United States, a legal expert says.
Those, such as American honeymooners Matthew and Lauren Urey, of Richmond, who were among 47 visitors believed to have been on the island at the time of the explosion on Monday, would have jurisdiction in the state of Virginia and in US Federal courts, said Bill Hodge, an honorary academic in the faculty of law at the University of Auckland.
Lauren, 32, and Matthew, 36, both suffered severe burns and Lauren's mother, Barbara Barham, told The Washington Post she was livid they were taken on to an active volcano.
While the prospect of success was conjecture, Dr Hodge said the argument would be that cruise ship company, Royal Caribbean, has a duty of care to manage the risk and to be aware of the "vigorous" nature of tourism in New Zealand.
New Zealand's Accident Compensation, no-fault, no-sue, system may work to dampen caution, Hodge said. "I think New Zealand is a place exemplified by a 'she'll be right attitude' … so, maybe, we have gotten a bit relaxed."
It was a country which offered a range of adventure activities with no prospect of a civil suit if something went wrong.
"I think Royal Caribbean should have been aware [of this] and asked whether this is the sort of activity we really want to offer guests."
Hodge expects the cruise company would receive a surcharge for promoting the excursion to guests. "I think due diligence on the cruise company's part is to be expected."
Under the GeoNet-managed NZ Volcanic Alert Level system, ranging from zero to five, the volcano had recently been rated level 2, indicating "moderate to heightened volcanic unrest".
That had been raised in response to increasing amounts of sulphur dioxide gas, along with volcanic tremors – both which can signal rising magma deep in the volcano.
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It is ultimately up to operators to decide whether to take visitors to the privately-owned island, with access controlled through permits.
Queenslander Lisa Lou, a guest aboard the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship who opted not to go on the tour to White Island, questioned whether guests were given enough warning about the dangers of visiting the volcano.
"Nowhere does it say how really dangerous this shore excursion really is," Lou said on Facebook.
Hodge said whether Australians from the cruise ship who were injured could sue depends on where they bought their cruise tickets and whether Royal Caribbean operates a business from Australia.
British travel writer John Malathronas said that when he visited the volcano more than a decade ago, he had to "sign my life away with the tour company because it was [that] dangerous to visit".
"It's worth pointing out that we were given breathing apparatus because of the noxious fumes. Acid on the ground melted my trainers' soles and I had to throw them away."
He said in retrospect, a brochure he was given seemed to "Disneyfy" the dangers. It included a "jokey piece" in the style of a personal ad, "Single White Female, steamy, very active, 200,000 years old."
One Whakatane company, White Island Tours, stated on its website that it operated through varying alert levels, but added that "passengers should be aware that there is always a risk of eruptive activity regardless of the alert level".
White Island Tours was awarded the title of Safest Place to Work for 2018 (small business category) from 1200 entries. Twelve months on, it is reeling after the December 9 eruption. Six people, including company tour operator Hayden Marshall-Inman, are confirmed dead, eight are missing and dozens are in hospitals around the country being treated for severe burns.
WorkSafe and the police are investigating.