At least five people are dead and dozens are missing after the White Island/ Whakaari volcano erupted Monday with at least 30 passengers from Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas hiking the rim of the crater as part of a shore excursion.
Some 47 visitors in total were on or near the island at the time of the eruption, and 18 of those people have since been rescued and transported to shore, including the five deceased and 18 injured, according to a NZ Herald report.
This morning, the Daily Mail has reported that the captain of Ovation of the Seas has been keeping passengers updated on the status of its eight missing passengers. The news from officials has been bleak, though.
In a statement just after midnight Monday in New Zealand, rescue officials indicated that they do not expect to find anymore survivors on the island.
Ovation of the Seas was docked in the Port of Tauranga 30 miles away at the time of the eruption, at least 30 passengers had travelled to the volcano as part of a hiking tour excursion
“The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter, and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption,” officials said in a statement at 12:12 a.m, carried by The Daily Beast.
“No signs of life have been seen at any point. Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation. Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island.”
Michael Schade, travelling with his family on the island, left by boat just minutes before the eruption, and said tour boats became emergency first-responders as they evacuated people from the island.
Checked photo timestamps. Last photo from me standing on the land was 13:49; this first photo of the eruption was 14:12, about a minute or two into the eruption. pic.twitter.com/hyqQuO4vNq
— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
It is estimated that 30 to 38 of the 50 people on the island were from Ovation of the Seas, but how many of the cruise passengers were among those rescued is unknown.
Last photos: here are the White Island Tour operators rescuing people, timestamp 14:24 (~12-14 minutes after eruption). Endless gratitude to that crew for stepping up as first responders.
I took these and reporters welcome to use with attribution. pic.twitter.com/ITmY1jCezr
— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Ovation of the Seas was docked at the Port of Tauranga on North Island about 30 miles away at the time of the eruption. She was due to depart Monday evening as part of a 12-night cruise from Sydney, but will instead stay in port as the cruise line and officials work to find missing passengers.
“We can confirm that a number of our guests were touring the island today. We do not have any additional details to share at this time,” a Royal Caribbean spokesperson told Cruise Critic.
“Ovation of the Seas will remain overnight until we learn more about the situation. We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities.”
“Please keep all those affected in your prayers,” the statement added.
It was reported Tuesday by local media that Ovation of the Seas will depart and head back to Sydney this evening. It is anticipated that the local community will give the ship a moving send-off to show their solidarity with those affected.
It has also been reported that Royal Caribbean is offering counselling to any passengers who request it.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that the issue of whether it was safe to allow tourists to visit the island prior to the eruption will be addressed, but according to News24, the latest advice had indicated the volcano was not a threat.
GeoNet warned on December 3 that “the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal”.
But the geological hazard monitoring website added “the current level of activity does not pose a direct hazard to visitors”.
Several eruptions have taken place on White Island over the years. The most recent in 2016 left no one hurt.