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Papua New Guinea 2017 Crime & Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Papua New Guinea; East Asia & Pacific > Papua New Guinea > Port Moresby; East Asia & Pacific > Solomon Islands; East Asia & Pacific > Vanuatu

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT MORESBY AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Papua New Guinea webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Port Moresby suffers from high unemployment, with up to half of the population reportedly living in squatter settlements. In recent years, much of the country has been affected by persistent El Niño-related drought conditions, and the export-driven economy continues to be negatively affected by falling global commodity prices.

Port Moresby ranks 136 of 140 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s livability index (August 2016), with a score indicating that “most aspects of living are severely restricted.” It is sixth on their list of the 10 least livable cities. Despite this, however, the vast majority of visitors who exercise common sense and apply appropriate security measures move around the city safely and conduct business without significant issue. Travelers are strongly advised to review their personal safety and security posture, to remain exercise heightened situational awareness when frequenting public places, and to avoid traveling alone, particularly at night.

Crime Threats

The rate of crime in Papua New Guinea is among the highest in the world. Crime rates are highest in/around major cities (Port Moresby, Lae, Madang, Mount Hagen, Goroka), but crimes can occur anywhere.

Travelers should be particularly cautious of pickpocketing threats when in crowded public places, especially the 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.

U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crime, including gang rape, carjacking, home invasions, kidnappings, and armed robberies.

Westerners may be perceived as wealthy, potentially making them targets of opportunity for criminals. Travel in groups and/or with an experienced guide. Be cautious of displays of wealth and keep valuables out of plain-sight; do not carry anything with you that you are not willing to part with if confronted. Change direction or depart the area if you become apprehensive of suspicious people, groups, or activities. Many of the businesses in Port Moresby have gated parking lots with guards on duty. Carry your cell phone and inform others of your travel plans when possible. 

If you suspect a vehicle is following you, do your best to avoid traveling to an enclosed area where you could be entrapped and forced from your vehicle. Incidents of robbery and carjacking can be coordinated based on known chokepoints. Criminal gangs use any means necessary to force passengers from their vehicles, including:

  • The Baby Car Seat or Crying Baby Hoax: Criminals place a car seat with a fake baby or a lone child crying 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 and dragged away unnoticed, assaulted, and robbed. 
  • Egging the Windshield: 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, as eggs mixed with water become milky and impossible to see through, forcing you to stop and likely become a victim.


In 2014, The World Bank produced thorough reports on the trends in crime, the drivers of crime, and the business cost of crime in PNG.


Corruption of public servants is a concern. Education certificate fraud is common, and private companies may face challenges verifying an applicant’s previous employment, education, etc. Generally, the best course of action is to speak directly with the individual’s previous employer.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is relatively uncommon. Nevertheless, 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

Visiting unguarded public sites (markets, parks, golf courses, beaches, cemeteries) can be dangerous. Incidents have happened at all hours in these locations. In Port Moresby, robberies have occurred around Parliament Haus on the weekends when it is unguarded. Exercise a high degree of caution in Bougainville. Law enforcement in this area is limited, and tourist/transportation facilities are inadequate.

Unexploded ordinance and mines may be found in Bougainville, East New Britain, and throughout the islands. Exercise caution when walking or hiking off marked roads and trails.

Avoid areas near the Panguna mine that have been officially designated “no go zones” by the Autonomous Government of Bougainville.

Travelers should consult with local authorities or 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.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

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

During the rainy season, landslides occur on some stretches of the Highlands Highway between Lae and Mount Hagen. Potholes and road erosion necessitate that vehicles travel slowly and attentively. Criminal-minded groups may use this to stop a slow moving vehicle and rob its occupants or forcibly take the vehicle.

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. Seatbelts should always be worn. After an accident, crowds can form quickly and may attack those whom they hold responsible by stoning and/or burning vehicles. Friends and relatives of an injured person may demand immediate compensation from whomever they hold responsible, regardless of legal responsibility. 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. Killing a dog/pig is almost certain to trigger a demand for monetary compensation, so exercise caution when driving through rural areas.

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 the Papua New Guinea’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 the holidays. Criminal roadblocks on the Highlands Highway may occur during daylight hours but are more common at night.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

While public transportation options are available, they should generally be avoided due to the lack of reliable, safe services and the density of passengers. Travelers who must use public transportation are advised to use a service provided by their hotel, employer, or colleagues.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

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.

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 basic services and are largely in a state of disrepair and neglect. 

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT MORESBY AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Transnational terrorism is uncommon. Outsiders do not blend into the PNG culture; therefore, transnational terrorists may find it relatively difficult to plan attacks or conduct violence discretely. 

Tribal warfare occasionally resembles indigenous terrorism, but it is usually carried out on an individual-to-individual scale. Tribes often battle each other with traditional and conventional weapons over land, water, livestock, and marriages. One act of violence often draws a retribution attack.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT MORESBY AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

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 erode 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/pensions and landowner disputes regarding payments associated with natural resource projects. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

PNG, an island in the South Pacific, lies on the Pacific Rim of Fire. The country regularly experiences earthquakes, volcanic activity, and cyclones, and is occasionally threatened by tsunamis. Rains have also caused landslides and flooding outside of Port Moresby.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

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 present the possibility of increased industrial accidents.

Economic Concerns

The government has made improvements in its enforcement of intellectual property rights. Notwithstanding, some stores openly sell pirated copies of movies, television shows, and music, as well as counterfeit clothing, jewelry, and other luxury goods. 

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 caution not to dress provocatively; local women typically do not wear revealing clothing. Women face a higher risk of sexual assault and should avoid traveling alone.

Drug-related Crimes

There is a growing concern for the local manufacturing and use of synthetic drugs. Marijuana is grown and distributed on a small scale. Reports suggest drugs (marijuana) are exchanged for weapons with Indonesia and through the Torres Straits to Australia. The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary has a task force to combat drug trafficking where there is evidence of trade for weapons. Authorities, however, suffer from a lack of resources to make arrests.

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 the number of kidnappings in 2008 and 2009 lent credence to these fears. In most of the cases, the kidnappers were paid relatively small amounts.

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. The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary faces daunting obstacles in trying to gain the cooperation of local communities, which frequently prefer to deal with criminals by themselves. The Constabulary also faces resource constraints and difficulties in imposing internal discipline. Consequently, police are thin on the ground, and response time may be measured in hours, not minutes. There are no special police officers who assist 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. Americans who are 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. 

Crime Victim Assistance

The Police Operations telephone number in Port Moresby is +675-324-4331 and will connect callers to the Boroko Police Operations Center, which may also be able to provide local police numbers throughout PNG. In an emergency, the local police may not have the resources to respond in a reasonable timeframe. 

If you are a victim of crime, you 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. The Regional Security Office may be able to track the progress of your case and advise you of any developments.


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. Equipment failures and shortages of common medications mean that even routine treatments and procedures (X-rays) may become unavailable. Pharmacies are typically small and may be inadequately stocked. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.” There is a hyperbaric recompression chamber for diving emergencies in Port Moresby, but it is difficult to access and may be inaccessible during emergencies. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical services. 

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

Tell: (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

Tel: (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

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

Cholera cases have been reported in Morobe, Madang, East Sepik, West Sepik, Southern Highlands, the National Capital District, and in Daru, Western Province. A significant number of deaths have resulted from the outbreak. Anyone visiting the affected areas should exercise strict hygiene precautions, including frequent and careful hand washing.

U.S. Embassy personnel regularly drink tap water in Port Moresby. Outside of Port Moresby, travelers are advised to drink water only from known safe sources (bottled, chlorinated, or boiled water); to avoid ice cubes and raw/undercooked food; and to maintain strict hygiene standards. 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

For more information on becoming involved in the Port Moresby OSAC Country Council, please contact the Regional Security Office at (675) 321-7902 / (675) 321-1455 ext. 2145 or PortMoresbyRSO@state.gov. Please contact OSAC’s East Asia Pacific team with any questions.

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, Papua New Guinea

Hours: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700 (except U.S. and local holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone: (675) 321-1455

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 responsible for the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Additional Resources

Papua New Guinea Country Information Sheet