Doorstop: White Island eruption

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: White Island eruption
10 December 2019

Marise Payne:

In relation to yesterday’s tragic events on White Island in New Zealand, and following from the Prime Minister’s statements earlier today, I’d like to make some additional comments about Australia’s consular operations and other activities for the Australian citizens in this event. I can confirm that additional consular resources are on their way to New Zealand – a total of five officers, some of whom will go to Auckland, and some to Christchurch. They will arrive this evening. They are in addition to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials who are already on the ground at each of the five hospitals where Australians are currently being cared for in New Zealand.

High Commissioner Patricia Forsythe is herself at Tauranga Hospital and she has been able to speak with some of the friends of one of the affected Australians. I'm not able to provide details as to injuries at this stage, but it does appear that burns are the main injury received. Victims are being stabilised, and then when possible, transferred to the larger burns units in Auckland and Christchurch. Some families of victims have made arrangements to travel, and we understand that some of those will arrive on flights later tonight. The government in that context is expediting any required passport arrangements and providing all other necessary help so that family members are able to travel quickly. Royal Caribbean is providing travel as well for next of kin and to close family for those affected. Qantas has also offered to assist with those travel movements.

Cruise companies are well-resourced to help in difficult circumstances and, as I said this morning, we are working closely with the company in this case. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is also in contact with those Australians who remain on board the cruise ship to work with them as they determine what their plans are, and to stand ready to assist if necessary.

To our family and our friends in New Zealand, we continue to offer our broad assistance - essentially anything that New Zealand needs and anything that we are able to provide.

It remains the case that we know of 13 Australians in hospital, which means 11 people unaccounted for as the Prime Minister said this morning. We do have grave fears however that three Australians are among the five that New Zealand has confirmed as having died. The age range of those involved in this tragic incident is 15 to 72. It is our understanding that the only Australians on the island at the time were the 24 people who were travelling as part of the cruise, and were on the island at the time of the eruption. I would note that New Zealand authorities have said that they do not believe there are any survivors remaining on the island, and that this is now a recovery operation.

Consistent with what we said this morning, we won't be confirming identities at this stage. The priority has been treating people who are severely injured. There is still a great deal of work to do. These are very difficult circumstances and speculation is not helpful, particularly for very worried families. In relation to the recovery operation, of course, the New Zealand Government will make updates as they are able to do so, but I am aware that they are regularly reassessing whether it is safe to get back onto the island to begin any recovery process.

We understand given the nature of a tragedy such as this that recovery and identifying victims could very well be a very lengthy and complicated process. There are strict international protocols about identification and these do need to be followed. They take time. We know unfortunately in Australia that this can take weeks, and in some instances, a coronial process is also required. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Federal Police are working very closely with the New Zealand authorities to provide information that will help with identification in these circumstances.

I would like to close by saying that we again offer our very deepest sympathies to anyone affected by this tragedy, their friends and their family. We pledge all necessary assistance to our friends across the Tasman and we will continue to work closely with the government of New Zealand to endeavour to support all of those involved.

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