Royal Caribbean is facing legal suits over its shore excursion to volcanic White Island in New Zealand in December.

Twenty-one people died and many were injured when the island’s volcano erupted last year. All but two were from Ovation of the Seas, and the claim is that no-one was warned of the dangers, despite increased volcanic activity and a safety warning from the New Zealand government.

An investigation by the ABC’s Four Corners program tonight reveals that the law firm Stacks Goudkamp has been hired by passengers and family members to pursue legal action in Australia against Royal Caribbean for alleged negligence, breach of contract, and breach of Australian consumer law.

Rita Yousef of the law firm told the program: “People have lost loved ones. They had to witness them in hospital having been completely burnt, being completely unrecognisable from their horrific burns, and people are having to somehow pick up the pieces.”

Ms Yousef maintains those from the ship were not warned of the dangers.

New Zealand’s volcano monitoring service, GNS Science, had raised the alert level for White Island from one to two in the weeks before the eruption, which is the highest level it can be when it is not erupting.

Ms Yousef maintains on the program: “At the very least, Royal Caribbean, which held itself out to be responsible for this tour, should have been monitoring this, and communicating with participants as to the risk, and giving them the choice, an informed choice to decide not to go because of this risk

“But what appears to have happened is that nobody was monitoring or taking this level seriously.”

The eruption caused a column of black and white ash and debris to shoot more than 3 kilometres into the air.

The ABC program claims passengers on the Ovation of the Seas learned what happened by turning on the TV and seeing news reports.

“There are accounts of people who were left in the dark for many hours while their loved ones were in hospital,” Ms Yousef said.

There are still some victims in hospital five months later.

A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said since the eruption the company has “focused on providing care and support to passengers, their families and crew that were impacted by this event”.

The spokesperson added: “The details of the tour are the subject of two separate investigations in New Zealand which we will be fully cooperating with and we are unable to provide further details at this time.”