PNG: Notes from a cruise August to September 2017
2017 update on the security and safety of navigating PNG by yacht.
Published 6 years ago, updated 4 years ago
Having just cruised through PNG I thought you might appreciate an update on the situation there.
We sailed up through PNG in our Najad 441 Romano, from clearing in at Kieta to clearing out in Samarai, between early August 2017 and mid-September 2017.
This is a desperate country where people live at subsistence level and see yachts as Santa’s sleigh, partly because of well-meaning yachts from Australia who bring large quantities of supplies with the best of intentions. This means being besieged by canoes at each village begging for supplies rather than any effort at trading. In fairness to the villagers, they are now so poor they have nothing much to trade. We supplied fish hooks, rice, flour, sugar, footballs, hair bands, batteries and books, and pens, but for very meager trades.
Bougainville, in particular, is attempting to break away from the rest of PNG and has in effect been abandoned by the main government. In the words of locals, there is now no formal law and order in that part of the country.
We were met by corrupt officials in Kieta and Buka in Bougainville – but not in Samarai where Felix the customs and immigration officer was refreshingly professional and honest.
We paid 50 kina (£20.00) to the customs officer in Kieta for clearing in, which went straight to his back pocket. He asked for 100 kina but I refused and we paid 50 kina for clearing out, no receipts given.
There is a very dangerous unmarked rock which just breaks as you come out of Samarai harbour at position 10.36.167S and 150.38.034, which is difficult to spot in any kind of sea.
In Numa Numa, we were boarded by locals at 5.00 am who were high on alcohol and drugs and we had to use physical force to repel them.
When we arrived in Buka we docked on the wharf in the main passage where the current runs up to 6 knots. We did this on the basis that we needed water and diesel. The port authority charged us 1800 kina (£600) for a 22-hour stay and customs in collaboration wouldn’t provide us with our clearance until we paid up. Our cards didn’t work in the ATM’s there and fortunately, we held US dollars on board which they reluctantly agreed to accept. Don’t use the main wharf in Buka – they are most unsympathetic to cruisers and charge at commercial rates. The Port Captain also refused to give a receipt until I camped in his office refusing to move and after an hour relented to get rid of me but wouldn’t sign the receipt providing an anonymous stamp only.
Supplies are very limited both in Solomons and in PNG and as our fridge and freezer had failed we lived off spam, tuna, and corned beef for two months and have an amazing range of menus now (see our Solomons report below for a list of our favourite dishes). PNG, in particular, is very poor from a provisioning and water provision point of view.
Papua New Guinea as a cruising destination is physically attractive but spoiled by corruption and lawlessness of the people, particularly in the main towns. We didn’t see another yacht in PNG in the month we were there and I understand Australia is advising cruisers not to go there. Even the locals warned us off from Kavieng, Rabaul, and Madang as dangerous places, so we made for Samarai and eventually Australia, glad to be out of the country.
I can imagine if we had avoided Bougainville we would have had a much easier time of it, although we were warned off Kavieng, Rabaul, and Madang by the customs authorities in Buka. In Bougainville, they are having an independence referendum in 2018 and the government has already withdrawn all support in anticipation of a breakaway vote. The mining and logging companies have also shut up shop so the economic position for Bougainville is dire. We spoke to an Australian who has lived there for over 40 years and he could see no hope for the country. All the government positions in Bougainville have been taken over by locals who see this as a way of making money, which also doesn’t bode well for the future. They admit they have no governing skills and are hopeful outside help will be available to help them run the new country.