Numerous lawyers in Australia and America have been hired by Whakaari / White Island survivors and family and friends of some of the 21 people who died in devastating volcanic eruption.
Sydney-based lawyer Rita Yousef confirmed to the Weekend Herald she had two confirmed clients, and had also been approached by others affected by the tragedy – including some still receiving hospital care – who want to sue Royal Caribbean Group.
Most of the people killed or injured in the December 9, 2019, eruption were on a sight-seeing voyage around New Zealand on the company's Ovation of the Seas vessel. Royal Caribbean Group is the world's second biggest cruise operator.
Yousef, who specialises in travel law and public liability for Stacks Goudkamp, said the actions she was looking at were definitely not the only ones that would be seeking financial redress for the tragedy.
"I have heard there are other law firms who are taking on these cases as well. They are Australia and American [companies] so far," Yousef said from Sydney.
"There are other firms now involved who have been approached by victims.
"I have got clear instructions to act from two and I have been approached by several other clients who are either still in hospital or not in a position to make decisions or for various reasons haven't made up their minds yet."
The death toll at White Island included 19 overseas tourists and two local guides who worked for White Island tours.
Yousef said the claims she was working on were restricted to Royal Caribbean Group.
That was it was because it was understood those who went on the fateful trip to White Island had bought their tickets direct from the cruise line, and not the Whakatāne-White Island Tours.
The crux of the legal case will be on the level of warnings passengers
were given by the vessel's crew before signing up for the tour.
"As far as I know there were no warnings about potential eruptions," Yousef said.
"The only warning I am aware of that they were provided with was that the terrain might be a bit difficult. People with mobility issues were advised against it, and they were told to wear enclosed shoes.
"Apart from that there were no warnings about risk of eruption and injury [from the cruise company]."
Yousef said she was waiting on the conclusion of investigations into the tragedy before any legal action was formally begun. That included the overarching investigation from WorkSafe NZ.
While that was being completed she was continuing to speak to people affected by the tragedy and completing her own research from various experts, including Ray Cas, an Emeritus Professor in the School of Geosciences at Melbourne's Monash University.
A day after the disaster, Cas said he believed allowing public tours of White Island was a "disaster waiting to happen".
The size of the claims against Royal Caribbean Group would depend on individual circumstances, Yousef said.
"The progress of each claim depends on each person; the recovery progress, their individual losses, their individual situation," she said.
"I am sure you can appreciate even though it is almost a year ago, it is still early days especially from a medical perspective to do with physical injuries. Also the psychological and psychiatric injuries really do take time to show themselves. "
Yousef said previously most
legal action related to the cruise industry had involved slips, falls or injuries suffered during excursions away from vessels.
What happened to those who had ventured onto White Island was extremely traumatising, she said.
"Every time my mind turns to thinking about what those people would have suffered, it is just absolutely horrendous," Yousef said.
"Basically being burned alive, people witnessing others melting before their eyes. And not to mention the respiratory problems they would have experienced just by inhaling all the gases and vapours.
"People think of burns as affecting the skin and causing scarring, but also the internal injuries are horrific; injuries that a lot of people can never truly overcome."
In a brief statement to the Herald, Royal Caribbean said it would "not comment on pending litigation".
It did not comment on what support had been offered and provided to passengers injured in the tragedy, or family members of those who lost their lives.
It also would not comment on what steps it took to warn its passengers about the potential risks on White Island.