December 11, 2019 01:08:42
Australians on a tour of White Island when the volcano erupted had been offered an “unforgettable” experience on what was described as “one of the most active volcanoes in the world”.
- A total of 24 guests of Ovation of the Seas took the ill-fated White Island tour
- Guests wore gas masks to see the volcano up close
- It is believed at least three of the confirmed victims are Australian, eight others remain missing
The tourists were passengers on Ovation of the Seas, a cruise ship that departed Sydney on December 4 bound for New Zealand’s North Island.
Some 24 guests booked the seven-hour trip to visit White Island from the port in Tauranga, paying up to $324 each.
When the volcano erupted on Monday at 2:11pm, the tour group was exploring the island’s crater. Three Australians are believed to be among the confirmed dead and another eight are missing, though rescuers hold little hope for further survivors.
‘Gas masks help you get up close’
Passengers opting for the “White Island Volcano Experience Cruise” start their trip with a scenic boat ride along the Bay of Plenty.
Inflatable Zodiac crafts then take passengers “directly into the crater complex”, according to a brochure seen by the ABC.
“Since the majority of the volcano sits beneath the sea, you head straight to the action without much, if any, climbing at all,” the brochure says.
Breathing apparatus and gas masks are handed out so the tourists can see the volcanic activity firsthand.
A tweet by Scott Kelly, who took a helicopter trip to the island last year, shows visitors wearing gas masks.
The breathing equipment allows tourists to “get up close to roaring steam vents, bubbling pits of mud, hot volcanic streams and the amazing lake of steaming acid”, the Ovation of the Seas brochure says.
Another traveller, who visited the island with an unspecified tour operator in November, described the scenery as “absolutely stunning”.
The brochure from Ovation of the Seas does not warn guests that the volcano could erupt or that there is a risk of injury.
However, the tour operator urges guests to consider their physical fitness and medical history before booking the tour, warning that “some excursions could be physically strenuous”.
People with pre-existing conditions — including knee injuries, cardiac conditions, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, heart or respiratory conditions — were urged to “take particular caution” when selecting a tour, while those in wheelchairs or limited mobility were advised not to book the trip.
Royal Caribbean Cruises, the operator of Ovation of the Seas, said the incident was “devastating”.
“We are working to help our guests and the authorities in the aftermath of this tragedy in any way we can,” it said in a statement.
Crew and passengers hold vigil
The ship’s crew and passengers gathered with members of the local Tauranga community at the port on Tuesday to pay their respects to the victims of the disaster.
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Relatives in Australia who are concerned about family and friends travelling on the ship are advised to call 1300 026 240.
People travelling with injured victims have been directed to a support station set up on the ship.
December 10, 2019 14:18:30
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