Royal Caribbean Guests Injured, Killed After Volcanic Eruption

new zealand white island volcanic eruption
White Island is New Zealand's most active cone volcano. - Photo by Michael Schade on Twitter

UPDATE 12/10, 10:20 AM: 

Six people have been confirmed dead, and eight are still missing. Most of the survivors sustained severe burns to their bodies and lungs. CNN reports that of the 31 people still in the hospital, 27 had burns to at least 30 percent of their body and many have inhalation burns that require airway support. Every burn unit in New Zealand is at full capacity as medical staff do all they can to treat the severe injuries from volcanic ash and gas. The injured range in age from 13 to 72. Two of the injured victims are Lauren and Matt Urey from Virginia, who were taking the cruise for their honeymoon after having gotten married in October. Lauren's mother told The Washington Post that Lauren has burns on 20 percent of her body, and Matt has burns on 80 percent of his body. They are being treated in separate hospitals in New Zealand. 

UPDATE 12/9, 5 PM:

The CEO of the New Zealand Cruise Association Kevin O'Sullivan said that a tour party of 30 to 38 passengers from Ovation of the Seas were on the island when the eruption took place. He said that they haven't returned. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said tourists from Australia, the United States, Britain, China and Malaysia are among the missing and injured.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

New Zealand’s White Island erupted at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, and some passengers taking a cruise on Ovation of the Seas were on the island when it happened. So far five people that were on the island are confirmed dead, and 18 others were rescued so far - many with severe burns.

47 people were confirmed to have been on the island when the eruption occurred, and aside from the 18 rescued alive, authorities believe there are likely no more survivors after multiple flyovers haven’t seen any indications of life. Eight people are still unaccounted for. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said "We must prepare for some difficult news in the days ahead." Since the island is still unstable and covered in smoke, ash, and volcanic material, police and rescue haven’t yet been able to get back on the island to begin looking for the deceased and any other possible survivors. 

It’s not clear how many of the people on the island were from the ship, but in a statement the police said that “a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship (berthed in Tauranga).” One of the confirmed dead was a young man named Hayden Marshall-Inmanm, an experienced tour guide for White Island Tours. The New Zealand Herald said that “friends and family posted tributes to him online, remembering the kind nature of the man who died ‘doing the one thing he loved.’”

Royal Caribbean issued the following statement:

The news from White Island is devastating. The details that are emerging are heartbreaking.

We are working to help our guests and the authorities in the aftermath of this tragedy in any way we can.

We are communicating with our guests and their families. We’re making sure they are taken care of in terms of medical help, counseling, accommodations, and transport. Our hearts go out to them, and we want to be as supportive as we can.

Staff from our Sydney and Auckland offices office are already onsite, and we’re going to be offering all our resources while this terrible tragedy sorts out.

We are grateful for the work of all the first responders and medical personnel. We also thank the prime minister and her team, the local authorities and everyone who has reached out to help with their kind thoughts and prayers.

white island new zealand volcanic eruption
Photo by Michael Schade on Twitter

White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, and a popular excursion destination among risk-taking cruisers and other visitors to the region. The New Zealand Herald reports that ahead of the eruption, “Authorities raised its Volcanic Alert Level to Level 2, as scientists observed increasing amounts of sulphur dioxide gas - a key indicator of rising magma deep in its bowels.” In New Zealand, the GeoNet Volcanic Alert Level system is on a scale from 0 to 5. Zero means there’s no volcanic unrest, and five means there has been a major volcanic eruption. Level 2 meant that there was ‘moderate to heightened volcanic unrest’ and once the volcano erupted, it became a Level 4 which is a ‘moderate volcanic eruption.’ Read here to see why tourists were still allowed to visit the island, even once it was upgraded to a Level 2. 

The ship will remain in Tauranga until all information has been gathered.

Royal Caribbean has opened their crisis line to family members wanting to know the status of guests from Ovation of the Seas. The number is 888-829-4050. 

We will continue to update this story as additional details become available. 

Original Information: New Zealand Herald 10/9 Update Information: SeaTrade Cruise News 10/10 Update Information: CNN & The Washington Post

Photos: Michael Schade on Twitter

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