A former police sergeant and Whakatāne district councillor says he raised concerns about White Island tourism years before December's eruption killed 21 people.
This week marked six months since searing hot gas, ash and rock exploded from Whakaari, while 47 people were visiting.
Twenty-seven WorkSafe staff are working on the health and safety regulator's investigation and police are investigating on behalf of the coroner.
Russell Orr - who spent 21 years in the police before serving as a Whakatāne district councillor between 2004 and 2019 - spoke to NZME exclusively about reservations he voiced when he was on the council.
Emails provided to NZME show in January 2013, when a lava dome was forming on Whakaari, Orr requested council staff make sure the risks were being "conveyed fully" to tourists, fishermen and visitors to the island.
Orr also requested: "If the risk is 'unacceptable' that business and economic issues do not sway us from making the obvious decisions needed to protect lives."
The next day - January 25, 2013 - a private meeting about the safety of tours on the island was held in Rotorua.
It included police, Civil Defence, GNS Science and Whakatāne District Council staff (not elected members).
Orr told NZME as far as he was aware, no action was taken after the meeting.
"Informally I was told [by council staff] council had no jurisdiction, that it wasn't in our area."
He said this lack of jurisdiction had been discussed for years by councillors and council staff leading up to the 2013 meeting, and after.
A Whakatāne District Council spokeswoman said the 2013 email exchange and meeting "were part of the work that took place at that time around evacuation plans and Civil Defence roles and responsibilities for the island".
Orr said during his time on the council, staff and elected members also discussed the potential for compensation if tour operators were forced to stop visiting the island.
Former Whakaari dive tour operator Tony Bonne ONZM, who was Whakatāne mayor when Orr was on the council, confirmed the council had "no jurisdiction" over the island.
However, he said he had "never heard of" council discussions about potential compensation liabilities if tours were stopped.
"I don't think it was even on the council radar."
"We were always just looking at how we could support the tour operators and the council adopted White Island as the gateway to the eastern Bay [of Plenty] because it was a unique attraction," he said.
Bonne also said: "nobody really discussed - in my time - a natural disaster happening".
He did not recall discussions in January 2013 when the Rotorua meeting was held and declined to comment on them.
Orr said he also held concerns about tourists on the island when he was a sergeant, before he retired from NZ Police in 2001.
Orr said GNS Science staff, such as volcanologist Brad Scott, had expressed similar concerns.
Scott referred NZME to GNS' media team, which declined to comment.
In 2014, the Herald on Sunday reported that Scott was "put off going to the island in a level 2 or 3 alert" and that "GNS Science staff have had 'terse discussions' with tour operators who have landed visitors on the island in conditions which make volcanologists anxious".
"We don't visit but they still go," Scott was quoted saying.
Health and safety law specialist Hazel Armstrong was "deeply concerned" the WorkSafe and White Island Tours' websites did not acknowledge the fatalities and serious injuries at Whakaari.
White Island Tours' website no longer promotes visits to Whakaari and advertises visits to Whale Island instead.
WorkSafe's investigation is expected to take a year.
The regulator can prosecute for breaches of the law - penalties and criminal sanctions range from $50,000 to $3 million and up to five years in prison.
A spokeswoman said WorkSafe could not comment on events and commentary that could be included in the eruption investigation.
However, she said there was "nothing" in the Health and Safety at Work Act that required a person conducting a business or undertaking, or a workplace, "to disclose prior incidents to the public or customers".
Last month, NZME revealed the Department of Internal Affairs had launched an internal review of its responsibilities for offshore islands, after the Whakaari / White Island eruption.
Department of Internal Affairs' director of ministerial advice, monitoring and operations Anita Balakrishnan said the department did not have a record of the meeting listed in Orr's documents in 2013.
She said the department was not "specifically aware" of Scott's apprehension about tours on White Island.
However, Balakrishnan also said the department began working on the Memorandum of Understanding with Bay of Plenty Civil Defence and Emergency Management, for civil defence emergencies on the island, in 2013.
It was later signed by the Bay of Plenty group and then Associate Minister for Local Government Jacqui Dean in 2017.
National MP Dean said she was not aware of the issues raised by Orr when the Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2017.
"At the time, the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence Emergency Management Group confirmed it was ready and able to take on the responsibility of responding to an emergency and were committed to working with tour operators to ensure the risks to visitors of visiting Whakaari/White Island were managed appropriately."
In response to Armstrong's criticisms, Minister for ACC and Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway said "there are substantial checks and balances in New Zealand law and business practice to keep our workforce safe and healthy".
"Our health and safety law was significantly updated after the Pike River tragedy in 2009, and we have a strong health and safety strategy in place now, but we need everyone to be vigilant."
White Island Tours referred NZME's requests for comment to Peter and Jenny Tait, who founded and owned the venture until Ngāti Awa bought it in 2017.
The Taits declined to comment.
Police, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, AdventureMark, and a lawyer representing the private owners of Whakaari / White Island - the Buttle family, all declined to comment while the investigation continued.