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Defendants in New Zealand volcano eruption tragedy case seek more time for pleas

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By Reuters

WELLINGTON – Most defendants charged following an investigation into a volcanic eruption in New Zealand in 2019 that killed 22 people told a court on Thursday that they were not ready to enter pleas, according to media reports.

The surprise eruption on White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, on Dec. 9 also injured dozens of people.

The majority of them were tourists from countries such as Australia, the United States and Malaysia who were part of a cruise ship that was travelling around New Zealand. There were 47 people on the island when the volcano erupted.

New Zealand’s workspace regulator, WorkSafe, filed charges against 13 parties in November last year for not meeting health and safety obligations with taking tourists to the island.

The defendants were meant to enter their pleas on Thursday but they told the Whakatāne District Court that they had not had enough time to go through all of the evidence provided so far, Radio New Zealand reported.

White Island Tours’ lawyer Richard Raymond said the 3,000 documents they had been provided so far amounted to thousands and thousands more pages, RNZ reported.

WorkSafe had a year to consider the issues and expert evidence before deciding to lay charges, he said, whereas the defendants only had a few months.

It was “an uneven playing field, to an extent”, Raymond said, according to the report.

Only the National Emergency Management Agency, one of the agencies charged, entered a not guilty plea. The next hearing was set for September, the report said.