By Sara Ametrano
A recent Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. voyage turned from dream holiday to disaster the day the White Island volcano erupted in December.
Located 48 kilometres off the coast of New Zealand, White Island draws thousands of tourists each year. The day of the eruption, some of the Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas passengers had disembarked to explore the crater. The disaster resulted in the death of 19 passengers, with several others being injured.
Cruise passengers often have the opportunity to purchase day excursions to add to their cruise ahead of time. To create excitement around the White Island tour, the Royal Caribbean website referred to the volcano as “one of the most active” in the world. Going further, the description read, “Get close to the drama: Gas masks help you get near roaring steam vents, bubbling pits of mud, hot volcanic streams and the amazing lake of steaming acid.”
The month before the eruption, GeoNet, the organization that provides natural disaster hazard information for New Zealand, raised its alert level for White Island due to an increase in sulfur dioxide and volcanic tremors. The agency warned that the island “may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal.”
The White Island excursion was not cancelled.
The GeoNet information combined with Royal Caribbean’s description of the day tour could help build a case in a class action suit against the cruise line, according to legal experts. “It all depends on what the cruise knew, and when they knew it,” attorney Carlos Llinás Negret explained.
However, as a volcanic eruption is a natural disaster (out of anyone’s control), the cruise line may opt to use “act of God” as their defense.
Royal Caribbean is currently in another legal battle due to a natural disaster that impacted one of its voyages in 2016. One of their liners, Anthem of the Seas, was hit by a powerful storm off the eastern United States. The company is claiming that occurrence was an “act of God,” a term cruise lines use in an uncontrollable, natural event. Passengers who were aboard the vessel, however, have said that Royal Caribbean tried to outrun the storm, fully aware of the risks. A court decision has not yet been reached.
In 2005, a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel was hit by a “freak wave.” In that class action lawsuit, regulators agreed there was no negligence by Norwegian, as what had occurred was out of the organization’s hands.