Royal Caribbean Passengers Caught Up in White Island Eruption

   December 9, 2019 ,   Accidents

(UPDATED) Following the New Zealand’s White Island volcano eruption (at 2:11 pm NZDT on December 9), the NZ police initiated a massive emergency evacuation and reported 34 rescued (33 injured, 25 critical), 8 missing (presumed dead) and 6 dead (5 confirmed killed, 1 died in hospital). One rescue helicopter was downed.

All rescued sustained injuries (mostly burns) and 13 were hospitalized. A total of 7 (in critical conditions) were medevaced / flown to hospitals in Auckland and Tauranga. As nationalities, the missing / dead tourists were from Australia (24, of whom 11 missing), USA (9), NZ (5), Germany (4), UK (2), China (2), Malaysia (1). The confirmed fatalities (6) included a NZ tour guide (from White Island Tours Ltd), a Malaysian tourist, three Australian tourists. The missing included 7 Australian tourists and a NZ tour guide. The victims age range was between 13-72.

NZ's Prime Minister initially said that up to 100 tourists (in 2 separate groups) were on or close to the island (aka Whakaari) when the volcano exploded, and a number of others were “unaccounted for”. However, the police later revised that number to 47. Most of the tourists (38) were cruisers on Ovation of the Seas visiting Whakaari on the RCI Royal Caribbean-sponsored shore excursion "White Island Volcano Experience Cruise and Guided Exploration" (guided tour, booking code TR93, cost US$ 324 pp).

The ship altered its itinerary by remaining overnight in Tauranga. Ovation OTS was scheduled to depart for Wellington in the evening (at 6 pm) but the company make decision the vessel to stay in port.

"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.

"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."

Ovation OTS is planned to arrive in Wellington on December 11 (at 7 am) being on a 12-day roundtrip Sydney NSW itinerary. The ship left Port Tauranga on Dec 11 (at 7:15 am).

Date / TimePort
04 Dec 18:45Departing from Sydney, NSW Australia
07 Dec 08:00 - 18:00Bay of Islands, Russell, New Zealand
08 Dec 07:00 - 20:00Auckland, New Zealand
09 Dec 07:30 - 18:00Tauranga, Rotorua, New Zealand
11 Dec 07:00 - 14:00Wellington, New Zealand
12 Dec 08:00 - 17:00Dunedin, Port Chalmers, New Zealand
13 Dec 17:00 - 18:00Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
16 Dec 06:30Arriving in Sydney, NSW Australia

Whakaari's last eruption was in 2001, but without injuries or fatalities.


On December 9th were registered 3 subsequent eruptions following the initial one. On December 10th, at 12:58 (NZDT) an earthquake with Richter magnitude 5,3 struck near Gisborne.

At the last count, the December 2019 Whakaari eruption resulted in 29 injured, 16 killed (confirmed dead) and 2 missing (presumed dead). The 18 killed were from Australia (14), NZ (2) and USA (2). The 29 injured were from Australia (11), USA (6), Germany (4), NZ (3), UK (2), China 92), Malaysia (1). Only 3 of the survivors were with slight injuries, while most suffered up to 95% burns of their bodies. NZ ordered from USA and Australia around 120 m2 (1300 ft2) of skin to treat these patients.

On December 11th, all the 13 injured Australians were flown to Australian hospitals (Sydney and Melbourne) to receive treatment. The medevacs were assisted by 3x RAAF aircraft (Royal Australian Air Force), 1x Lockheed C-130 Hercules (4-engine plane) and 2x Boeing C-17 Globemaster planes (military transport aircraft), delivering medical aircrew and equipment.

On December 11, Royal Caribbean emailed all customers booked on shore excursions visiting a volcano (worldwide). Future RCI cruisers were informed that the deals are cancelled and these tours are terminated (not offered through Royal Caribbean anymore). All volcano tour bookings received full refunds, paid within 7-10 business days.

Note:White Island (approx 55 mi / 90 km to the east of Tauranga) is privately owned (by White Island Tours Ltd) and declared in 1953 "scenic reserve". By the NZ Legislation (Reserves Act 1977), independent tourists can't land on Whakaari without permission, but landings are allowed to customers of authorized tour operators (including cruise shipping companies). Whakaari is classified as "Important Bird Area" for its breeding colony of ~3000 pairs of Australian gannets (large seabird).

White Island (New Zealand)

For other Ovation Of The Seas accidents and incidents see at the ship's CruiseMinus page.