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Cruising Update On PNG And Security Alert For 2004

By doina — last modified Sep 20, 2004 02:54 PM

Published: 2004-09-20 14:54:14
Countries: Papua New Guinea

Cruising PNG, June - Aug 2004

Anyone planning to cruise PNG should be aware that this country has the highest crime rate on earth according to a recent report aired on Radio Australia. The worst of the violent crime occurs on the mainland, particularly the Highlands, but also in every coastal port. Multiple reports of recent ritual cannibalism printed in the Post Courier (Port Moresby), confirm that in 2004 people are still eating each other on the mainland. Tribal warfare continues today, and a recent raid in the Highlands left 19 dead. Though outsiders are unlikely to be a target, carjackings and robberies are increasing at roadblocks set up by gangs of thieves. Gang rape is also common and an Australian pilot was recently killed for the $20 he withdrew from an ATM. While we were in PNG, friends that stopped at the Royal Papua Yacht Club in Moresby reported that a sailing dinghy out for the day from the club was barraged by shotgun fire from locals in a banana boat, apparently with no other motive than having some fun by shooting at people. We did not, and would not, risk going to any mainland port though the Yacht Club itself is considered very secure. The eastern islands of PNG are generally much safer, but the majority of yachts we are aware of that have cruised northeastern PNG in the past two years have had things stolen, including ourselves. Some current local knowledge and safety precautions are essential to avoiding trouble which has spread, surprisingly, to some small islands and remote areas.

It is recommended that in every port or unknown village anchorage you lock the companionway at night and leave only a few small hatches open. Lock the dinghy on deck and bring all loose gear below and lines to centerline if you can't strip them. Anything you leave on deck is fair game for the taking. We heard of one yacht that recently had all their running rigging including halyards stripped off the boat overnight while the owners were asleep below!

It is recommended that you obtain a visa, available from any Australian High Commission office, prior to arrival in PNG. Yachts may be granted a 2 month visa on arrival (price and attitude varies with port) but your passports will be sent via courier to Moresby at your expense, they are often lost, and you will not be allowed to cruise outside the province you check in to until your visa is in hand.

With all these cautions stated, there are still some wonderful places in PNG that are some of the safest and most crime-free places on earth. Here is what we learned during our short time in eastern PNG:

Bougainville and Buka

Still considered off limits due to the dangers associated with the secessionist movement, however the Australian police are arriving as we write and should be a help. We wouldn't go there until good reports are heard. (In September '04, an Australian peacekeeper stationed in Gizo, SI told us she was very glad she was not being sent to Bougainville because the situation there is "not good.")

New Britain

Yachts have been burglarized in the last year in Rabaul. One was boarded by a band of armed men, and the captain and his wife were tied up for a few hours while the boat was looted. In August of 2004, several armed men boarded and robbed a copra ship while the crew was aboard. Mixed reviews on Kimbe, New Britain. If you decide to chance it, seek advice upon arrival from a local dive boat operator.

New Ireland

Kavieng is the main port with gas, diesel, LPG refills, and reasonably good provisioning. Boats have been entered and robbed in Kavieng in the last year or so, and dinghy theft occurs. In July '04, our boat was ransacked and about US $15,000 worth of equipment and possessions stolen. The break-in occurred just after sunset while we were ashore at the Malagan Resort, just a few hundred meters directly in front of our boat. Our locked boat was anchored near 2 occupied live-aboard dive boats. The port side of our boat was illuminated by the bright flood lights of the hotel and there was a security guard patrolling the beach. Unfortunately, the security guard was involved in the crime and we did not see the thieves sneak up on the dark side of our boat, despite taking frequent looks to make sure all was well. Police did nothing to help us even though everyone knew who committed the crime -- about 15 "boys" using 2 dugout canoes, an inflatable, and a banana boat. If you are heading north through PNG waters bound for FSM, Palau, or points north, or coming south from FSM, Kavieng is a useful provisioning and refueling stop. Most people there are friendly and helpful; just be careful and do not leave your boat after sunset. The safest anchorage is off the Nusa Island Retreat at 02 35.11S, 150 46.91 E. (All waypoints WGS84.) Upon arrival, call Rod, owner / operator of the Kavieng-based dive boat "Barbarian," on VHF 16. Rod can be a great help with current local knowledge if he is in port when you arrive. The Australian Yacht Stardancer II stopped at Cape Sena, on the east side of New Ireland, and reported the locals were extremely friendly and welcoming. Stardancer was told they were the first yacht in living memory to anchor at Cape Sena.

Offshore New Ireland

Nuguria Atoll Safe and friendly. 500 welcoming Polynesians. Head Councilman Gideon didn't ask for any paperwork and said we could stay as long as we like. There are several passes but by far the easiest is centered at 03 20.83 S, 154 40.46 E, 32 feet minimum depth. The recommended pass is between Huhunati and Busuria Is, where the largest village is located.

Tabar Islands Said to be safe and a good stop. Very high islands which looked inviting as we sailed by.

Lihir Ex-pats say don't bother as the mine has defaced the landscape. The aesthetics may not matter, as the yacht Stardancer II, legally checked in to the country, tried to stop at Lihir in August of 2004 and the authorities there said the harbor is owned by the mine and no yachts are allowed. Period.

Tanga Islands Reported to be nice and safe.

Green Islands Reported good in the past but no current information.

Carteret Group Local ex-pats say "probably nice."

New Hanover

We anchored on the N.W. of New Hanover to dive a wreck in Three Islands Harbor and didn't feel too safe. Lots of canoes came around and a few stood about 10-15' off our boat in the darkness for hours just watching us move about the deck. We went in company with the dive boat Barbarian but wouldn't go there alone.

St. Matthias Group (Mussau & Emirau - N. of New Hanover)

Universally believed to be unsafe for yachts. Ex-pats refer to the inhabitants as "animals" and believe the Chief may be involved in the robberies.

Misima Island (Check in for Louisiades)

Don't take the "free island tour" offered by a young girl as your yacht will be robbed while you are away. Other than that, we haven't yet heard of ransacking and many boats pass through safely, though petty theft is becoming more common. We have heard nothing negative about Samarai except that the officials are over-zealous.

Lorengau, Manus Island (Admiralty Group)

Yachts have been ransacked there recently and there is evidence that the police and other government officials are in on it. The owner of the outboard engine repair shop is also suspected. Locals and ex-pats alike call Manus "lawless." One man reported to be involved in the ransacking of the yacht "Yelo" on 11/14/03 is believed to have also boarded a yacht 10 years ago, tied up the husband, raped the wife, and stripped the boat, yet the man is still at large committing crime. If you must go there, try to contact Stanley, an Indonesian who works for Daltron Enterprises supermarket in Lorengau, and runs the small trading boat "Wave Runner". He can hook you up with a reliable local to watch your boat.

Hermit Islands (NW of Manus)

Idyllic and very safe, though watch out for the crocodiles. 150 people, all Seventh Day Adventists (SDA). Highly recommended for friendly village and diverse marine life particularly in the SW part of the atoll. Locals are eager for yachts to visit and have said it is fine to come before or after check in/out. No paperwork required. As a courtesy, proceed to the village at Luf upon arrival to ask permission from Head Councilman Paul Silas. We spent 5 weeks there and loved it. Several wonderful anchorages. The N.W. pass is centered at 01 28.27 S, 145 02.10 E. The W. entrance is at 01 30.59 S, 144 57.48 E. Charts are off by about 1.7 miles and the offset is inconsistent across the atoll.

Ninigo Atoll (NW of Hermits)

Caution is advised. We were only there a few days but weren't comfortable. First day, a man was seriously stabbed fighting with his brother, and the next day a young man mysteriously drowned while spear fishing. Locals admit to having rascals who rob yachts and their own people. If you go, anchor at Bahanat where only one yacht-friendly family lives - Andrew (of German descent) and Hellen Koniel. Stay away from Longan, Pihun, and Mal Islands where robberies have occurred. East pass is at 01 22.16 S, 144 15.14 E. Well marked when we were there.

Wuvulu (W of Ninigo)

Locals say to avoid due to rascals. We heard a secondhand report of a yacht being "cleaned out" there within the past few years.

We hope this information is helpful to anyone considering cruising through PNG. Though the reports of trouble may seem like isolated incidents, it is important to keep in mind that very few yachts have cruised outside of the relatively safe Louisiades in the last few years, so in some areas you have a greater than 50/50 chance of becoming a victim. The U.S. State Department website offers further useful information. Unfortunately, it may scare you away!

Safe sailing, John & Lynette Flynn, S/V White Hawk

September 2004