The volcano, called White Island, erupted today (Monday 9 December) during a tour of the island in the early afternoon.
Late on Monday, Deputy Police Commissioner John Timms said that ‘both New Zealand and overseas tourists’ were believed to be involved.
So far, 23 of the up to 50 people believed to have been on the island at the time of the eruption have been removed from the island – five dead and 18 with various degrees of injury. The Chief Executive of the New Zealand Cruise Association said that 30 to 38 of these people were passengers on the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
Reconnaissance flights over the volcano have not identified any survivors and the police said that they believe that anyone who could have been found alive has been evacuated. "Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," they said in an update.
Timms said that police and rescue crews have not returned to the island due to the physical environment being unsafe, with the risk of further eruptions.
Drones will be deployed by the military at first light in order to assess the situation on the ground.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who have loved ones at the island at that time ─ and I can assure them police are doing everything they can."
Even though White Island is the country’s most active volcano, the privately owned island is a tourist destination where frequent day tours and scenic flights occur. Academics have questioned its suitability as a tourist destination, stating that it ‘was a disaster waiting to happen’.
ITIJ will bring you more on this story as it unfolds.