FUMING Royal Caribbean cruise passengers have criticised the firm for its “terrible” care after the deadly trip to a New Zealand volcano.
Tearful holidaymakers today disembarked the Ovation of the Seas ship to be reunited with relieved family and friends in Sydney after the White Island disaster.
The official death toll from last Monday’s eruption on White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, has risen to 16.
Two people whose bodies are believed to be in the waters around the island are still officially listed as missing.
A further 26 people remain in hospitals in New Zealand and Australia, many in critical condition with severe burn injuries.
Many of those killed and injured were Australians on a day tour from the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd ship, the 16-deck Ovation of the Seas.
“HAVEN’T COME HOME”
It launched its tour of New Zealand’s famed sounds or fjords, lakes and volcanoes earlier this month from Sydney, carrying about 4,000 passengers.
Upon her return, relieved Australian Jo Anne Anderson told the Sydney Morning Herald that she was “so happy to be home.
“There are dead people, people who went on a trip of a lifetime, and they haven’t come home. It is dreadful.”
Royal Caribbean was slammed for failing to adequately communicate what was going on to passengers.
Some told News.com.au that with the dreadful news widely publicised by the media, including the names of fellow holidaymakers, they wanted more information while on board.
The Ovation was in port in Tauranga, a coastal city in the country’s North Island, about 56 miles (90km) from White Island, during the eruption.
Krystal Browitt, 21, has been named as the latest victim of the White Island volcano disaster[/caption]
The captain didn’t even tell us what was happening. We had to watch the news.
Dad and Ovation of the Seas passenger
One dad said that his son had made friends with two killed in the disaster.
The upset man added: “He’s not (OK). He was in the medical centre last night at 2am; it was terrible.”
He showed the website a piece of paper containing generic mental health advice, which he said was the only help their family received on the ship.
It basically contained a list of websites and phone numbers for suicide helplines, and digital health services, along with a suggestion to go to their GP should they need to be “referred to the most appropriate mental health services”.
The dad added: “I have a 17-year-old boy, and this is what I got. They offer you mental health support on the last night when you’re about to get off.
“The worst thing is the way Royal Caribbean handled this. It was terrible.
“The captain didn’t even tell us what was happening. We had to watch the news.
“It was a prison ship in the end – you weren’t allowed to know anything.”
Newly-weds Josh and Elise Pierce married in Adelaide before leaving for their honeymoon on Ovation.
Josh said: “We hoped our honeymoon would be great and it was just tragic.”
The couple had returned from a rafting trip to hear about the deaths of fellow passengers who had taken a trip to White Island – which spewed ash, steam and gases while 47 people were on it.
Those visiting included 24 Australian citizens and four permanent New Zealand residents, as well as others from the US, Germany, China, the UK and Malaysia.
Fellow passenger Jo-Anne Anderson said she was riding the Wairoa River rapids, near Tauranga, while others visited the active volcano.
An emotional Jo-Anne sobbed while admitting: “I feel really, sorry – even selfish – we were enjoying ourselves white water rafting while elsewhere, people were being blown away.
“It broke my heart.”
News.com.au reports that was also praise for staff members aboard the Ovation, and its captain, who were all said to be devastated at the deaths and injuries.
Elite soldiers take part in a mission to retrieve bodies from White Island [/caption]
Our thoughts remain with those affected and we will continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families.
The Sun Online understands that information on counselling available to passengers and crew was provided through the Captain’s announcements and in a letter to passengers on Wednesday evening following the itinerary update in the wake of the tragedy.
On Sunday evening, before reaching Sydney, a brochure was distributed on behalf of health departments around Australia, which included advice about how to cope after returning from a disaster-affected area.
In a statement, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said: “As Ovation of the Seas returns to Sydney today, our thoughts remain with those affected and we will continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families during this difficult time.
“We would like to thank all the first responders and medical personnel.
“We also thank the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and their teams, the local authorities and everyone who has reached out to help with their kind words of support.
“We thank our guests for their understanding in the days following this tragic event.”
Hero rescuers rushed to the scene, combing through the ash and smoke[/caption]
Rescue teams rushed to the scene[/caption]
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today that official inquiries into the fatal volcano eruption could take up to a year, and will carry potential criminal penalties of up to five years in jail.
There has been growing criticism that people were allowed on the island, a popular destination for day-trippers, despite the deadly risks.
Tourists were given gas masks so they could get as close as possible to the dangerous active volcano.
In one Ovation of the Seas advert – since removed from the web – it said: “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.”
NZ’s PM said that WorkSafe, New Zealand’s primary regulator for workplace related incidents, has opened a health and safety investigation.
It can prosecute individuals and companies for breaches of health and safety laws, with penalties including fines of up to NZ$3 million.
A Coronial inquiry is also underway, and “is likely to continue for some time,” she added.
Six bodies were retrieved from the island on Friday, and officials believe the remaining two bodies are now likely to be in the surrounding, contaminated waters.
Naval divers are scheduled to continue the search today.
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Local tourism authorities market White Island, or ‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, as “the world’s most accessible active marine volcano”.
The privately owned island runs daily tours, and more than 10,000 people to visit every year.