SYDNEY, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) — Passengers on board the Ovation of the Seas cruise liner have returned to Sydney Harbor on Monday, one week after the harrowing White Island Volcano disaster in New Zealand.
At the time of the surprise eruption, 47 holiday makers from the ship were on the island.
So far, the official death toll stands at 16, although two people remain missing and around 25 are currently being treated at highly specialized burns units in Australian and New Zealand hospitals.
The passengers were reported to be in an extremely tearful and somber mood when disembarking at the Circular Quay terminal. A woman named Joanne told the Australian Associated Press, “people that went on my holiday of a lifetime that I’ve waited 50 years for and they never got to come home… dreadful. It just broke my heart,” she said.
A man named Troy, one of the passengers returning home, praised the actions of the Royal Caribbean crew, telling Channel 9 “(they) were really good. They were trying to stay upbeat and happy and do what they could but you could tell they were hurting.”
Meanwhile, a father who did not wish to be identified told reporters that he was angry with the lack of information and support from the crew.
“The worst thing is the way Royal Caribbean handled this. It was terrible,” he said.
“The captain didn’t even tell us what was happening. We had to watch the news.”
He said his 17-year-old son had made friends with some of the people who were killed in the eruption and was emotionally struggling as a result, and the cruise crew did not offer him mental health support until their last night onboard.
However, in a statement to passengers, a Royal Caribbean spokeswoman said the group is committed to providing further support to everyone who was on board.
“As Ovation of the Seas returns to Sydney today, 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.
With a number of Australians among the dead, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne will travel to New Zealand on Monday to meet with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and observe a minute of silence at a ceremony for the victims.
“(We) express our deep appreciation for the professional and quick response of the New Zealand emergency and medical services and the care they have provided to Australian survivors of the eruption,” she said.
“Our hearts go out to all of the families and loved ones of those affected,” she added.