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Papua New Guinea 2018 Crime & Safety Report

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

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Papua New Guinea has been assessed as Level 2: Exercise increased caution. Visitors are advised to reconsider travel to areas near the Paguna mine in Bougainville due to civil unrest and to reconsider travel to the Highlands region due to the aftermath of a recent earthquake. 

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 American Citizen Services (ACS) unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service 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.

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.

Port Moresby suffers from high unemployment, with up to half of the population reportedly living in squatter settlements. The export-driven economy continues to be negatively affected by falling global commodity prices, and inflation is a recurring problem.

Port Moresby 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 conduct business without significant issues.

Crime Threats

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

Visiting unguarded public sites (e.g., markets, parks, golf courses, beaches, and cemeteries) can be dangerous, and 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 pickpocketing threats 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.

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 and may result in grievous bodily harm or death.

Westerners may be perceived as wealthy, potentially making them targets of opportunity.

Incidents of robbery and carjacking can be coordinated based on known chokepoints. Criminal gangs use any means necessary to force passengers from their vehicles.

  • This includes 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 their 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:

Corruption of public servants is an ongoing concern. 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 with an applicant’s previous employer.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is relatively uncommon; however, increasing 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

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

Visitors are advised to 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.

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. Further exacerbating this problem is the lack of police response and the challenges to evacuation from more remote regions.

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 countrywide 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 over-crowded 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-minded 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. Killing a dog/pig is almost certain to trigger a demand for monetary compensation, so 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 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.

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

Public Transportation Conditions

Use of public transportation is not recommended and should be avoided due to the lack of safe and reliable services. Crimes (robbery, sexual assault) are not uncommon on the unregulated bus systems. Travelers who require transportation services are advised to 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 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.

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 in PNG. Outsiders do not 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

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Port Moresby as being a MEDIUM-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 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/pensions and landowner disputes regarding payments associated with natural resource projects. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Tribal warfare occasionally resembles indigenous terrorism, but it is usually carried out on a person-to-person level. Tribes often battle each other with both traditional and modern weapons over 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.” PNG regularly experiences earthquakes, volcanic activity, and cyclones and is occasionally threatened by tsunamis. 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 present the possibility of increased industrial accidents.

Economic Concerns

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

Drug-related Crimes

Drug-related crimes are relatively low in PNG. 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. 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 (radios, weapons). The Constabulary also faces resource constraints and difficulties in imposing internal discipline. In 2016-17, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (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 by themselves.

Consequently, police presence is sparse on the ground, and response time may be measured in hours. 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. U.S. citizens 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. The American Citizen Services Section (ACS) deals with U.S. citizen arrests and can be reached using the main Embassy number (+675 308 2100) or at the Embassy Duty officer (+675 7200 9439) after-hours.

Crime Victim Assistance

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

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.

Police/Security Agencies

Most large companies utilize 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 (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.”

There is a hyperbaric recompression chamber for diving emergencies in Port Moresby, but it is difficult to access and may be inaccessible during emergencies; it currently appears 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

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.

There has been a rise in dengue in PNG. People who have already suffered a bout with dengue are more susceptible to its effects if contracted again.

Malaria poses an ever-present threat.

The water supply is chlorinated and fluoridated in Port Moresby, but it is advisable to boil water before consumption. Outside of Port Moresby, local water supplies may be interrupted or polluted. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

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

OSAC Country Council Information

Interested private-sector security managers should contact 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 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 RSO in Port Moresby is responsible for the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Additional Resources

Papua New Guinea Country Information Sheet