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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Papua New Guinea 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Papua New Guinea (PNG) at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution. Reconsider travel to the Highlands region due to earthquake damage and disruption of local services. Reconsider travel to areas near the Paguna mine in Bougainville due to civil unrest.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

Please review OSAC’s Papua New Guinea webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

There is serious risk from crime in Port Moresby. Port Moresby suffers from high unemployment, with up to half of the population reportedly living in squatter settlements. The export-driven economy continues to falter due to falling global commodity prices. Inflation is a recurring problem.

PNG ranks 136 out of 140 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 livability index, with a score indicating that “most aspects of living are severely restricted.” It is sixth on their list of the 10 least livable cities. However, the vast majority of visitors who exercise common sense and apply appropriate security measures are able to move around the city safely and to conduct business without significant issues.

Crime Threats

PNG’s crime rate is among the highest in the world. Crime rates are highest in and around major cities – such as Port Moresby, Lae, Madang, Mount Hagen, and Goroka – but crime can and does occur anywhere.

Crime rates against foreign diplomatic staff and private-sector personnel are significantly lower than rates of crime committed against the public. This is due mainly to comprehensive security plans laid out by sponsoring countries/companies that include but are not limited to rules on movement; identification of high crime areas; security escorts; tracking devices; on-call response teams; housing alarms; 24/7 guard surveillance; and real-time threat reporting.  

Failure by security officials to develop a comprehensive security plan significantly increases risk to their clients. Similarly, disregarding security protocols developed by one’s security officer significantly increases the likelihood that the individual will fall victim to a security incident.

Visiting unguarded public sites (e.g., markets, parks, golf courses, beaches, and cemeteries) can be dangerous; incidents have occurred at these locations at all hours. In Port Moresby, robberies have occurred around Parliament Haus on the weekends when it is unguarded.

Travelers should be particularly cautious of the threat of pickpocketing when in crowded public places, especially local public markets. Bag snatchers may try to open doors of automobiles that are stopped or moving slowly in traffic. Sophisticated criminal enterprises also exist, and their capabilities often exceed that of local law enforcement authorities. Many of the businesses in Port Moresby have gated parking lots with guards on duty.

Westerners may be perceived as wealthy, potentially making them targets of opportunity. U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crime, including sexual assaults, carjacking, home invasions, kidnappings, and armed robberies. Many criminals turn increasingly aggressive during the commission of a crime, which may result in grievous bodily harm or death.

Incidents of robbery and carjacking can be coordinated based on known chokepoints. Criminal gangs use any means necessary to force passengers from their vehicles. One such scam involves the baby car seat/crying baby hoax. Criminals place a car seat with a fake baby or a lone, crying child by the road and wait for someone to stop and check on it. The location is usually a grassy roadside area where a victim can be captured, dragged away unnoticed, assaulted, and robbed.

Another tactic involves egging the windshield of an oncoming vehicle. If you are driving at night and eggs are thrown at your windshield, do not stop. Do not apply water or operate the windshield wiper; eggs mixed with water become milky and impossible to see through, forcing drivers to stop and increasing the vulnerability to criminal activity.

In 2014, The World Bank produced thorough reports on the trends in crime, the drivers of crime, and the business cost of crime in Papua New Guinea. Though these are now five years old, they remain relevant.

 

According to Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), PNG ranked 138 out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 28 out of 100 that classified it as “highly corrupt.” The CPI draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public service corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Although this metric is only a measure of the perceived level of corruption in the public sector, PNG’s low score should underscore the importance that the public and private sectors place on preventing corruption and promoting integrity. Transparency International called on the government to fully resource and strengthen institutions so that they may operate without fear or favor, to support the Open Government Partnership, and to implement the National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2010 – 2030. 

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is relatively uncommon; however, the growing use of the internet and mobile technology brings with it an increased risk of cybercrime and threats to information security. The government passed the Cybercrime Code Bill in 2016 in part to address these concerns.

Other Areas of Concern

Recent government protests and tribal fighting have caused major destruction to government buildings and public infrastructure in the Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces. Police have been unable to keep public order or prevent destruction of property.

Travelers should consult with local authorities and the U.S. Embassy before traveling on the Highlands Highway. There is a greater risk of becoming the victim of violent crimes when traveling alone, especially when hiking in isolated rural areas. Further exacerbating this problem is the lack of police response and the challenges of evacuation ill or injured personnel from more remote regions. When traveling to remote regions, carrying redundant means of communication and tracking devices is strongly recommended.

Exercise a high degree of caution in Bougainville. Law enforcement in the area is limited, and tourist/transportation facilities are inadequate. Areas near the Panguna mine that have been officially designated “no go zones” by the Autonomous Government of Bougainville should be avoided.

Unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines are abundant in Bougainville, East New Britain, and throughout many of PNG’s islands. Exercise caution when walking or hiking off marked roads and trails.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Traffic moves on the left in PNG, and vehicles are right-side drive. Travel on highways outside of major towns can be hazardous. There is no nationwide road network, and most roads, especially in rural areas, are in a poor state of repair. Other common safety risks include erratic and/or drunk drivers, poorly maintained vehicles, rock throwing, and overcrowded vehicles. Sabotage of roads by disgruntled workers is common.

During the rainy season, landslides occur on stretches of the Highlands Highway between Lae and Mount Hagen. Potholes and road erosion necessitate that vehicles travel slowly and attentively. Criminal groups may use this to stop a slow-moving vehicle and rob its occupants or forcibly take the vehicle. Criminal roadblocks on the Highlands Highway may occur during daylight hours, but are more common at night.

Motor vehicle accidents are a common cause of serious injury. Accidents often involve vehicles traveling on the wrong side of the road in an attempt to avoid potholes. After an accident, crowds can form quickly and may attack those whom they hold responsible by throwing stones and/or burning vehicles. Friends and relatives of an injured person may demand immediate compensation from whomever they deem at fault, regardless of legal responsibility.

The accidental transportation-related death of domestic animals, such as dogs or pigs, is almost certain to trigger a demand for monetary compensation. As such, travelers are advised to exercise caution when driving through rural areas. Travelers who are involved in an accident and feel threatened should go directly to the nearest police station. Remain calm; take note of the area; identify landmarks; and do your best to provide the police with relevant details and information.

Police routinely set up roadblocks in Port Moresby to check vehicle registration. Drivers should ensure that documentation and decals are up-to-date in order to minimize difficulties at roadblocks. For specific information concerning driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, road safety, and mandatory insurance, contact PNG’s Motor Vehicle Institute Limited at 675-325-9666 or 675-302-4600. It is not uncommon for police officers to use roadblocks to solicit bribes, particularly before holidays.

Public Transportation Conditions

The use of public transportation is not recommended and should be avoided due to the lack of safe and reliable services. Crimes like robbery and sexual assault are not uncommon on unregulated bus systems. Travelers requiring transportation services should use a service provided by their hotel, employer, or colleagues.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

In-country air travel on domestic airlines is common, as there are few roads outside of the more populated towns and regions. Airline pilots face challenging terrain and a difficult flying environment. Most of the domestic airports are very limited in terms of basic services, and are largely in a state of disrepair and neglect. 

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization aviation safety standards.

Other Travel Conditions

Crime is not limited to land in PNG; there have been cases of piracy in some coastal areas, with most recent cases taking place in the Alotau/Milne Bay regions. Pirates use small boats with small- to medium-sized outboard motors to chase down or ambush similar boats. Targeted boats are usually carrying goods from island to island or from main trading centers to smaller villages along the coast. Pirates use edged weapons and firearms to steal goods; boaters that resist run the risks of being attacked or having their boat sunk. The range of the pirates is generally determined by the size of their gas tanks and engines. Faster boats can outpace and outlast the typical PNG pirate vessel. Boats that moor in the waterways overnight should remain vigilant, as there have also been cases of boats boarded and robbed in the night. Find a secure port or berth if overnighting in PNG waters.

There are reports of criminals using boats to circumvent land-based security measures and gain entry into an area by sea. Verify that coastal venues have accounted for sea-borne threats in their security postures.

The waters off PNG are some of the most beautiful in the world, offering unlimited scuba and fishing opportunities; they are also some of the most remote. Due to a lack of resources and interagency coordination, PNG’s capacity to conduct waterborne rescues is extremely limited. Local businesses such as marinas and boating clubs usually play a large role in monitoring clients boating in their area. Use of marine radios, satellite phones, life vests, global positioning systems, flares/electronic signaling tools, and regular radio status updates are a must while boating in PNG. Furthermore, for longer voyages, create a sailing itinerary and share it with local marine recovery assets, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard (or equivalent).

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Port Moresby. Transnational terrorism is uncommon in PNG. Outsiders do not easily blend into the PNG culture; therefore, transnational terrorists may find it relatively difficult to plan attacks or conduct violence discreetly. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Port Moresby. Since gaining independence in 1976, PNG has experienced periods of political volatility. Despite being endowed with a wealth of natural resources, the country struggles to provide basic education, health, and infrastructure services. Intense disputes between politicians often gridlock Parliament while inadequate resources, understaffing, and corruption limit the effectiveness of services provided by lower government.

Civil Unrest

There is a moderate amount of civil unrest due to economic woes and the inability of the government to maintain control of crowds. There have been demonstrations regarding government entitlements and landowner disputes regarding payments associated with natural resource projects. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Tribal warfare occasionally resembles indigenous terrorism, but is usually carried out on a person-to-person level. Tribes often battle each other using both traditional and modern weapons over disputes involving land, water, livestock, and marriages. Acts of violence often result in retaliatory attacks.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

PNG is located in an active seismic region known as the “Ring of Fire.” The country regularly experiences earthquakes, volcanic activity, and cyclones, and is occasionally threatened by tsunamis. Heavy rains have also caused landslides and flooding outside of Port Moresby.

PNG does not meet Western standards in regards to crisis response. Fire and medical emergency services are typically undertrained and underfunded.

Critical Infrastructure

Improvements to infrastructure are typically associated with the influx of business interests in natural resource sectors (particularly liquefied natural gas). The growing mining, liquefied natural gas, and hydroelectric industries, however, present the possibility of increased industrial accidents.

Economic Concerns

While PNG has made improvements in its enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR), IPR theft remains a significant concern. Authorities identified major counterfeiting rings producing beer, soft drinks, and cigarettes in 2018. The counterfeiting of movies, television, music, and clothing is also prevalent; such products are openly advertised for sale on social media.   

Privacy Concerns

PNG law permits police officers to search any person, building, vehicle, cargo, or bag that they have reasonable grounds to believe is connected to any offense against public order or the crime decree. Obscene materials are illegal, though interpretation of what constitutes “obscene” is loosely defined.  

Personal Identity Concerns

Expatriate women should take extreme caution while in PNG, as they face a higher risk of sexual assault. Women should avoid traveling alone while visiting PNG.

The systems typically used in more developed countries to vet prospective candidates for employment are not present in PNG. Improper record keeping, forged documents, the absence of a national identification system, lack of birth certificates, etc. make it nearly impossible to properly screen candidates to any acceptable standard. The lack of a well-maintained criminal database, coupled with informal and undocumented criminal punishment, only serve to exacerbate the problem. As a result, local record and fingerprint checks represent less than ideal tools in the employee vetting process.

Education certificate fraud is common, and private companies may face challenges verifying an applicant’s employment history, education, etc. The best course of action is to speak directly to the institutions that have issued the diploma about the certificate’s veracity before hiring based on educational history.

Drug-related Crimes

Though relatively uncommon in PNG, the number of drug-related crimes appear to be increasing. Recent reports suggest that PNG is becoming a transit point for certain drugs (e.g., cocaine) on their way to the Australian market. Reports suggest that drug runners hide shipments among legally traded goods to gain entry into Australia. There is also a growing concern over the local manufacture and use of synthetic drugs. Marijuana is grown and distributed throughout PNG, and its use is common in certain areas.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPGNC) has established a task force to combat drug trafficking, but suffers from a lack of resources to fully investigate crimes. Police rely heavily on Australian Police counterparts to assist in making inroads to stop the illicit drug trade.

Kidnapping Threat

With an influx of expatriate workers supporting the extraction industries, there have been concerns that the frequency of kidnappings could increase. A spike in kidnappings in 2008 and 2009 lent credence to these fears. In most of the cases, the kidnappers were paid relatively small amounts. Additionally, expatriate workers in PNG have been taken hostage as a means to renegotiate contracts that were previously agreed upon. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

PNG has approximately 4,500 national police in a country of almost seven million inhabitants, reflecting one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in the world. Police are often undertrained, underfunded, and lack basic law enforcement tools (e.g., radios and weapons). The RPNGC also faces resource constraints and difficulties in imposing internal discipline. In 2016-17, the RPNGC faced extreme budget cuts further exacerbating the problem. Moreover, the RPNGC faces daunting obstacles in achieving the cooperation of local communities, which frequently prefer to deal with criminals on their own.

Consequently, the on-the-ground police presence is sparse, and response times may be measured in hours rather than minutes. There are no special police officers assigned to assisting foreigners.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In the event that foreigners are arrested, authorities are required to notify the appropriate embassy. Detained U.S. citizens concerned that the Department of State may not be aware of their situation should request that police or prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy of their arrest. The American Citizen Services (ACS) unit deals with U.S. citizen arrests and can be reached at the main Embassy number (+675 308 2100) or at the Embassy Duty officer number (+675 7200 9439) after hours.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Police Operations telephone number in Port Moresby is +675-324-4331. The operator will connect callers to the Boroko Police Operations Center, which may also be able to provide local police numbers throughout PNG.

Victims of crime may report or register a complaint at any police station in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. File a police report as soon as possible. You may need a police report to file for victim compensation or insurance reimbursement. If you do file a report, please send a copy to the Embassy, along with your address and phone number, in case they need to communicate with you.

If you, as the victim, are not capable of reporting the crime in person, someone else may file a police report on your behalf. You will be given a copy of the report after paying required fees. The police will provide an interpreter, if needed. Victims of crime who have left the country can report the crime to the Embassy of Papua New Guinea in the U.S. The U.S. Embassy may also file a complaint on your behalf. If you have difficulties filing your police report with an official, please contact the U.S. Embassy immediately.

Police/Security Agencies

Most large companies use private security firms for their day-to-day security needs.

Medical Emergencies

Available medical facilities range from hospitals in Port Moresby and the larger towns to aid posts (including some missionary stations) in remote areas. The quality of care varies, but facilities in the larger towns are usually adequate for routine problems and some emergencies. Due to equipment failures and shortages of common medications, even routine treatments and procedures (e.g., X-rays) may be unavailable. Pharmacies are typically small and may be inadequately stocked. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

If you scuba dive or snorkel while in Papua New Guinea, be sure to check the references, licenses, and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to a tour. Confirm that the dive operator you use is certified through one of the international diving associations, and that their certification is current. Confirm with the diving association directly that the operator is certified. Deaths and serious accidents have occurred in the past because basic safety measures were not taken during diving and snorkeling trips. Remember that safety precautions and emergency responses may not meet U.S. standards.

There is a hyperbaric recompression chamber for diving emergencies in Port Moresby, but it is difficult to access and may be inaccessible during emergencies. At present, it appears to be non-operational.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

A list of medical facilities in Papua New Guinea can be found on the U.S. Embassy website.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Niugini Air Rescue

Tel: (675) 323-2033

Fax: (675) 323-5244

Airport: (675) 323-4700; A/H Mobile (675) 683-0305

Toll-free (24-hours): 0561293722468

Medevac Pacific Services

Telephone: (675) 323-5626; 325-6633

Mobile: (675) 683-8767

PNG-wide toll-free (24-hours): 1801 911 / 76835227

International SOS (Medevac Service)          

Port Moresby: (675) 302-8000

Sydney: (61) 2 9372 2468

Tropic Air (Medevac Service)

Port Moresby: (675) 311-2673

Australia: (61) 4-2523-3357

Insurance Guidance

Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical services. 

Before traveling overseas, ensure your insurance covers you outside of the U.S. For more information, visit the State Department’s medical insurance overseas page. Last minute, one-way commercial tickets from Port Moresby can be quite expensive.

Medical evacuation companies charge thousands of dollars for transport to Australia or the U.S. The most commonly used facilities are in Brisbane and Cairns (Australia). If you anticipate the possible need for medical treatment in Australia, you should obtain entry permission from Australia in advance. The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby can grant entry permission for Australia, but it is easier to obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) prior to leaving the U.S.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a Level 2 Travel Warning for PNG regarding the recent outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus in the Morobe Province. The CDC has additional information and advice on the outbreak on their website. Travelers who have received all the routine childhood polio vaccinations as well as a single booster dose of polio vaccine as an adult have essentially no risk of infection with the vaccine-derived polio that is circulating in PNG. Tuberculosis, Zika, HIV, and other infectious diseases are also present.

There has been a recent cholera outbreak in Morobe, Madang, East Sepik, West Sepik, Southern Highlands, the National Capital District, and in Daru, Western Province, resulting in a significant number of deaths. Anyone visiting the affected areas should exercise strict hygiene precautions, including frequent and careful hand washing.

There has been a rise in dengue in PNG. People who have previously contracted dengue are more susceptible to its effects if they contract the disease again.

According to the CDC, malaria is present throughout the country, especially at altitudes below 2,000 meters (6,561 feet). Travelers should speak to their doctor about how to prevent malaria while traveling.

The water supply is chlorinated and fluoridated in Port Moresby, but travelers should boil water before consumption. Outside of Port Moresby, local water supplies may be interrupted or polluted.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Papua New Guinea.

OSAC Country Council Information

OSAC constituents who are interested in engaging with the Port Moresby Country Council and/or connecting the Regional Security Office should contact OSAC’s East Asia-Pacific team.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Port Moresby

Douglas Street (downtown), adjacent the Bank of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby

Hours: Monday-Friday, 0800-1700 (except U.S. and PNG holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone: (675) 308-2100

24-hour Duty Officer: (675) 7200-9439

Website: http://portmoresby.usembassy.gov/

Consular Coverage for Multi-post Countries

The Regional Security Office in Port Moresby is also responsible for the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Additional Resources

Papua New Guinea Country Information Sheet

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