Papua New Guinea, Wewak - Yacht boarded by armed men
I would like to share with Noonsite readers about an incident we were involved in about two weeks ago in Papua New Guinea.
We pulled into Wewak early in the morning on January 29 to check out with customs as our visas expired on January 31st. We had Wewak recommended to us as being safer than Madang. While in port that day, we were warned by many locals that six months ago an elderly couple were in Wewak and one night they were boarded by locals with weapons. Stories differed by the locals as to whether there were two couples or two boats, but they stole many valuable items including their GPS. Police were able to recover the GPS only, but I think it was more terrifying than anything as the couple was tied up while they were robbed.
We had planned to keep a watch at night because of this. We are four young men aged 24-37 on "Raptor" a 45 foot Australian-flagged catamaran, so keeping watch in harbour is not a big deal for us. Around 10:45 we were watching a movie (no one was on watch yet) when I heard a noise outside. I disregarded it until about 10 minutes later when I heard voices. Then our skipper went outside to investigate with a flashlight and confronted 3 men who had boarded our board from both sides. One had a gun, one had a machete and one had a small axe. One of us, Christian, shut the screen door upon realizing what was happening to regroup inside. They kicked open the door and forced our skipper back inside, bu t upon doing so hit the smoke alarm and set it off. This really irritated them but was enough of a distraction that Christian and Chris had gone to the galley to find any sort of weapon to defend ourselves. I was forced to silence the alarm at gunpoint. At the time the gun appeared to be from the 1800's but we later found out it was a homemade gun that is only good at close range and shoots buckshot.
After the alarm was silenced, the man with the gun went towards the galley to get the other two up into the saloon where they could watch us all. He pointed the gun at Christan but then looked behind at the Skipper and I, allowing Christian to push the gun aside and tackle the gunman. We proceeded to force them all outside where we managed to throw them down the steps on the transom. At this time I was on channel 16 trying to raise anyone, but being a small port, there was no response. We had no local phone number for the police and our shouts went unnoticed.
Realizing we had the gun in our possession after the scuffle, we were worried they might return with friends so we threw the dinghy in the water and chased after them. They had two canoes but we could see them swimming to shore. We manged to catch up with one of them and proceed to drag him back to the boat with the help of a couple of scary looking spear guns we use for fishing. He was terrified by this weapon. We got him back and tied him up on the swim platform and went looking for the others. Unable to find them, two of us went to the local yacht club and got some locals to come assist us. They contacted the police and came with us to the yacht to bring the captive back to shore.
The police in PNG are known for their own dealing of justice. If you have ever read about Port Moresby, you will know what I mean. We had to keep the locals from smashing this man's head in with our dinghy anchor and a piece of lumber. Once the police had him, they dealt with him by tieing him to a tree and beating him while naked. We were told had a particular officer been on duty that night this man would have been shot. Everyone asked why we brought this man to shore and did just tie his hands and feet and thrown him overboard. They were dead serious.
I don't know if this will change the mind of locals in Wewak for boarding yachts, or if they will just come more prepared. I had the feeling this man wouldn't use the gun and they were unprepared. But this woke us up to the realization of being boarded. We had talked about it, but when we left Australia, we were unable to buy flare guns or bear spray or anything offensive. As I have read before, the noise of an alarm seemed to be a major irritant to them. It may have been the distraction we needed to stay safe. I was surprised at the usefulness of the spear gun however - our captive cried out when we had it pointed at him or touching his skin, but barely made a noise when being beaten by the police or locals.
This is very disappointing because I was in the process of writing many good things about cruising through PNG - friendly people, beautiful coral reefs, deserted islands and good availability of supplies. It marred an otherwise excellent trip through PNG. So despite this story, I would still stay it is a great place to travel and recommend it to others.
In a separate incident The Coastal Passage reported that yacht O’LGeta skippered by Roy Griffiths was boarded and ransacked by two men on Saturday 26th January 2008 at a village called Kaparoka, 40nm ESE of Port Moresby. At 2.30 am the men boarded the yacht with a 2 foot bush knife and cut the anchor line. Crewmember Michael, dived overboard and swam ashore; Roy Griffiths came up from his sleeping berth at the bow and fell overboard when one of the men tried to attack him. He stayed under the boat's side until the men had ransacked the yacht. They took a radio, food, 2 mobiles and 40 litres of diesel. After they had left Roy climbed back on board and motored quickly back toward Port Moresby. The police were alerted and travelled to Kaparoka where the two culprits were apprehended but managed to escape. It is reported that the village police will locate them and bring them back to Port Moresby.
The yacht arrived safely in Port Moresby where crewmember Michael was able to rejoin the yacht and after obtaining a new anchor and chain they departed once again for Lae on Sunday 28th 2008.
I read with concern the report of another yacht boarding in Papaua New Guinea and where the 4 young men had beaten off the attackers. I worked in PNG for three years and found the vast majority of people to be pleasant, peaceful people that were always willing to help and made us feel very welcome.
The country itself is unique, the flora and fauna amongst the best in the world, the majority of people are very friendly and the diving unbelievable.
Equally there were a minority of people or groups of criminals, locally called "rascals" that took every opportunity to steal, rape, pillage, plunder and commit every other crime known to man.
Whilst we lived in PNG we witnessed or were aware of some horrific crimes including one incident where a yacht had been boarded in Madang and the elderly couple tied up for several hours with wire. In nearly every case the local police were less than effective.
It is for this reason alone that I could never recommend anyone consider sailing to PNG. I have spent many hours on the water in PNG and would dearly love to revisit this exotic location, but for the security issues!
Should you ignore this advice, think carefully about fighting back - there are always many more of them than you. Family, friends, cousins or even people from the same country are called "wantoks" (one talk or one language) so the rascal support group can be very large.
The Bougainville Island dispute saw many weapons enter PNG, a lot of which have found their way into the mainland. So beware.
And lastly can we ever forget Sir Peter Blake and his fate after tackling intruders.
SY Miss Saigon