Tearful passengers have returned to Sydney in a sombre mood after the deadly White Island volcano eruption that took the lives of some of their fellow travellers during a cruise around New Zealand.
The Ovation of the Seas, which had taken holidaymakers to visit White Island before the eruption, returned to Sydney on Monday morning after 12 days at sea.
Some people were visibly upset as they disembarked, with one passenger called Joanne becoming tearful as she talked to reporters at Circular Quay about those who didn’t come home.
“They’re people, people that went on my holiday of a lifetime that I’ve waited 50 years for and they never got to come home … dreadful.”
She told how she had been upset seeing suitcases being removed from the ship.
“[It] just broke my heart,” she said.
Another passenger hit out at the way those on board were treated after the tragedy, in which 16 people have died, labelling the cruise a “prison ship”.
“The worst thing is the way Royal Caribbean handled this. It was terrible,” the man, who has not been named, said.
“The captain didn’t even tell us what was happening. We had to watch the news. It was a prison ship in the end, you weren’t allowed to know anything.”
Passenger Max Sum said “the whole boat stopped” when the news of the eruption came. But he agreed communication on the ship “could have been better”.
“When the captain announced the news, the whole boat kept silent. The whole boat stopped. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear any more information from the captain,” Mr Sum said.
On hearing the news, Mr Sum’s 11-year-old son Russell said: “I thought it was fake news. I was like that can’t be true.”
Another passenger said people on the ship were left in the dark as the tragedy unfolded.
“I’ve got a son that’s 17 who lost two friends that he made. We didn’t know how many people were missing,” he said.
US tourist Jennifer Highfield, from Michigan, said she was grieving for fellow passengers and the families affected.
“Those poor people, I just feel so terrible for them. I am a nurse so I know how long it is going to be for their recovery,” she told the ABC.
“I felt a little bit guilty having fun when such a terrible thing happened. The captain was wonderful, we could tell it was heartbreaking for him personally. Even coming in today, I felt a bit emotional.”
Kylie Peat, from Brisbane, said the full implications were probably yet to dawn for many people.
“I think it will probably hit people later on as well – they were trying to get through the cruise and think what actually happened and how bad it was,” she said.
“There were those that lost their lives but there are also those in hospital.”
Other passengers praised the ship’s crew for their handling of the tragedy. A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman also thanked passengers.
“Our thoughts remain with those affected and we will continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families during this difficult time,” she said.
“We would like to thank all the first responders and medical personnel. We also thank the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand and their teams, the local authorities and everyone who has reached out to help with their kind words of support.”
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A week ago New Zealand experienced the most extraordinary tragedy – an eruption on Whakaari/White Island while kiwi guides and guests from around the world were visiting. Lives were lost immediately, and in the days that have followed others have succumbed to their injuries. There are almost no words for the stories of both the aftermath and the loss that has followed. I want to pay tribute to the many people who did extraordinary things to save lives – whether it was through rescue efforts or the ongoing response by health professionals across the country. To the recovery team who made it their mission to bring loved ones back from the island, right through to the council, emergency management team who have supported the local community all the way through. To Ngāti Awa, for the outpouring of manaakitanga and support to all that have needed a safe haven during this time. Those who have been lost are now forever linked to New Zealand, and we will hold them close. (Image: a photo I took while travelling out to Whakatane with our defence team. A beautiful outlook on a very sad day.)
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Of the 47 people on the volcano when it erupted last Monday, 24 were Australian citizens and four were permanent residents.
The official toll stands at 16, with two bodies still unaccounted for. They are believed to be in the waters around White Island, also known as Whakaari.
Of the dead, 11 have been confirmed as Australian citizens or permanent residents.
The four confirmed by NZ Police on Monday are 20-year-old Jessica Richards from Brisbane, Coffs Harbour man Jason Griffiths, 33, and Kristine Langford, 45, and Martin Hollander, 48, who are both from Sydney.
These add to the seven named on Sunday – Adelaide schoolgirl Zoe Hosking, 15, her stepfather Gavin Dallow, 53, Karla Mathews, 32, and Sydney man Anthony Langford, 51.
Mr Hollander’s sons Matthew, 13, and Berend, 16, who were US citizens, were also confirmed dead.
An Australian man, whose family asked that he not be named, died in a Sydney hospital on Sunday.
Another 12 people are being treated in Australian hospitals after being repatriated with severe burns.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne flew to New Zealand on Monday to meet PM Jacinda Ardern.
The cruise ship had left Sydney for New Zealand on December 4.