Royal Caribbean International is “rallying round” to account for guests in the vicinity of a New Zealand volcano when it erupted this morning.
Royal’s Ovation of the Seas was moored in Tauranga, a coastal city about 56 miles from Whakaari (known as White Island), during the eruption at 2.11pm local time (01:11 GMT).
There were about 50 people on or in the vicinity of Whakaari at the time, New Zealand police have confirmed.
Updating media at a briefing for the line’s UK wave campaign in London this morning (9 December) UK and Ireland managing director Ben Bouldin said Ovation had “a number of people on an excursion in the volcano zone” around the time of the eruption.
“As a business we have been rallying round this morning trying to account for everyone. Our prayers are with our guests as we try and find them,” he said.
Citing New Zealand police sources, the BBC reports five people as having been killed.
Although some of those involved have been transported to shore, many are still unaccounted for and police are working with the country’s National Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a search and rescue operation.
Police said both New Zealanders and tourists were among those believed to have been caught up in the eruption.
A number of the injured have been transported to Whakatane Hospital and Middlemore Hospital.
There are numerous tour operators which offer White Island as a destination, including White Island Tours Limited, which has shut down its website and replaced it with the message “We are currently experiencing an emergency. For further information please contact us directly.”
On Sunday (8 December), GeoNet warned White Island, which is currently covered in ash, “may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal”.
The volcano last erupted in 2016.
Silver Fern Holidays has said none of its clients were known to be on White Island today.
“It’s a shocking event,” said John Lightwood, managing director of the New Zealand specialist.
“We do not expect any of our clients to be caught up in this, because their planned itineraries do not put them in the area, but our local office is contacting all our clients today to ensure they’re safe.”
The operator does not include White Island in its escorted itineraries, but some tailor-made trips include the island while touring the north coast.