New Zealand tragedy: Royal Caribbean issues hotline numbers

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The death toll from the White Island volcanic eruption in New Zealand rose overnight while two British women are among the injured.

As many as 13 people are presumed to have died, including eight still missing on White Island.

Thirty-eight of the tourists visiting the island when disaster struck at 2.11pm local time on Monday were reported to be passengers and crew from Royal Caribbean International ship Ovation of the Seas.

Police said a total of 47 people had been on the island – a popular tourist attraction – at the time.

There were 24 visitors from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China and one person from Malaysia.

A total of 27 people were taken to hospital with burns to a third of their bodies. Others are also suffering from inhalation burns.

Two British women were among those receiving treatment, according to Laura Clarke, the UK High Commissioner to New Zealand.

Royal Caribbean set up hotlines, including 0800-014-8339 in the UK, for those concerned about relatives travelling onboard Ovation of the Seas.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he “feared” three of the five confirmed dead were from Australia.

He said that 24 Australians were from a cruise ship exploring the island in the Bay of Plenty when the volcano erupted. Of those, 13 people had been hospitalised and 11 were unaccounted for, he added.

There were two groups on the island at the time, “those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption,” according to New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Some survivors were rescued by boat in the immediate aftermath, but police said it was too dangerous to mount a rescue operation.

Helicopter rescue flights later picked up several people from the privately-owned island, 30 miles off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

Ovation of the Seas had been docked at Tauranga, a coastal city near White Island.

Royal Caribbean said: “The news from White Island is devastating. The details that are emerging are heartbreaking.

“We are working to help our guests and the authorities in the aftermath of this tragedy in any way we can.

“We are communicating with our guests and their families. We’re making sure they are taken care of in terms of medical help, counselling, accommodations, and transport. Our hearts go out to them, and we want to be as supportive as we can.

“Staff from our Sydney and Auckland offices office are already on-site, and we’re going to be offering all our resources while this terrible tragedy sorts out.

“We are grateful for the work of all the first responders and medical personnel. We also thank the prime minister and her team, the local authorities and everyone who has reached out to help with their kind thoughts and prayers.”

Ovation of the Seas was on a 12-day itinerary which left Sydney last Wednesday.

White Island or Whakaari is one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes yet attracts frequent day trips and scenic flights.

In updated travel advice, the FCO said: “The Whakaari/White Island volcano erupted on 9 December. Emergency response is underway. If you are travelling in the area, you should follow the advice of the local authorities and/or your tour operator.

“If you’ve been affected by the incident and need urgent consular assistance, you should contact the British High Commission in Wellington on +64 (0) 4 924 2888.

“If you are in the UK and you’re concerned about friends or relatives in the area, you should contact the FCO in London on 020 7008 1500.”

Around 200,000 British nationals visit New Zealand every year.

Quakes Spark Volcano Alert in Canaries

Quakes Spark Volcano Alert in Canaries

The Spanish government have issued a yellow alert following an increased level of persistent seismic activity, described as an “earthquake swarm”. The epicentre is on the island of El Hierro – the smallest of the Canary Islands, to the west of Tenerife and Gran Canaria. The island, popular with tourists, has seen over 8,000 tremors in two months, 150 since yesterday and experts fear an eruption could happen imminently.

Around 10,000 people live on the 108-square mile island and 53 people have been evacuated from their homes so far following landslide fears. However, a mass emergency evacuation is now possible with the army on standby for helping out in such an event and residents preparing to flee.

The British Foreign Office advises: “The local government authorities have raised the risk level of a volcanic eruption from green to yellow and taken preventative measures in case of a volcanic disruption, deploying extra resources from the military and emergency services to the island. Local authorities are also on stand-by to effect an evacuation should this become necessary.”

Fortunately, no cruise ships are due to call at El Hierro, but there are several scheduled to call at neighbouring islands over the next few weeks.

Ships visiting include Independence of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas, Silver Spirit, Ventura, Queen Mary 2, Costa Deliziosa, MSC Melody, HAL’s Ryndam and Boudicca, Black Watch and Balmoral.

A volcanic eruption has not taken place on any of the Canary Islands since Las Palmas in 1971 but an expert has warned that an eruption on El Hierro could take place in, “days, weeks or months,” according to Tom Worden of the Mail Online. Juan Carlos Carrecedo said, “There is a ball of magma rising to the surface producing a series of ruptures which generate seismic activity. We don’t know if that ball of magma will break through the crust and cause an eruption.”

A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean said: “We are currently monitoring the volcanic activity on El Hierro to ensure guests enjoy a safe and comfortable cruise. At this time, Independence of the Seas and Adventure of the Seas are still scheduled to make all of their ports of calls. The safety of our guests and crew is always our foremost concern.”