Newlywed White Island survivors confirm lawsuit against Kiwi company, cruise ship

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Jul 2020, 2:50PM

Newlywed White Island survivors confirm lawsuit against Kiwi company, cruise ship

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Jul 2020, 2:50PM

A newlywed couple from the United States have revealed their long and painful recovery process after being caught in last year's Whakaari/White Island eruption.

Lauren and Matthew Urey had wed in South Carolina two months before the eruption, which killed 21 people. The honeymoon cruise they'd booked to celebrate offered an excursion to the active volcano.

They are now taking legal action against the cruise ship they were travelling on - and ID Tours New Zealand Ltd.

In an interview with CBS News, the couple claimed Royal Caribbean and ID Tours New Zealand Ltd did not warn them of heightened volcanic activity on the island before the excursion.

"We started off having the time of our lives, and then it just turned out to be just hell," Lauren told CBS This Morning.

Both were put in medically induced comas and underwent skin grafts and plastic surgeries. It was nearly two months before they were reunited back in the US.

Asked by CBS if she was grateful to be alive, Lauren said, "If you want me to be honest, at times I kind of wished — it would be easier if I wasn't.

"I am now. But at the time, when I was in New Zealand ... I couldn't do anything. I couldn't go to the bathroom by myself, I couldn't brush my teeth, I couldn't use the phone … and I just was wondering if I would ever be normal again."

Now home in Virginia, the Ureys are going through painful laser procedures to increase mobility and break down their scars.

"We actually sleep in separate beds because we just — between the tossing and turning and general discomfort, there's no way we can share a bed right now," Matt said.

"It sucks. It just sucks," Lauren said.

"I don't like the person I see when I look in the mirror. I don't like, obviously, my burns, the scars. I don't like my short hair. I don't feel beautiful ... I'm afraid he doesn't think I'm beautiful, which he tells me repeatedly he does but — it's just really hard.

The Ureys are suing both Royal Caribbean and the New Zealand tour company. Other victims and families are also pursuing legal action.

"They needed to have done a heck of a lot more to warn these folks," maritime attorney Michael Winkleman told CBS News.

"When they're going to offer a shore excursion to their passengers, they have a duty to reasonably inspect the excursion to make sure that it's safe. ... But what Royal Caribbean, like all cruise lines try to do, is say, 'Hey wait a minute, these are independent contractors, we don't have anything to do with it,' but I've never seen a situation where the facts actually support that."

In the weeks prior to their trip, New Zealand's GeoNet agency raised the island's volcanic alert level to 2. Level 3 means an eruption.

"Had we known that, there is absolutely no way we would have ever stepped foot on that island," Matt said.

He added they may need surgeries once a month for the next one to two years.

"We're very angry. I mean, we're very, very angry about this," Lauren said.

Lauren told CBS she could see normalcy "a little bit" now.

"I owe it all to him," she said about Matt. "I really do. He's been my rock. He's been everything to me."

The Ureys said they plan to redo their honeymoon in the US, possibly next year.

In a statement to CBS News, Royal Caribbean said, "We respectfully decline further comment while the investigation is still proceeding."

When approached by NZME for comment today, an ID Tours New Zealand Ltd spokesman said the company would not comment on any ongoing legal matter.