Crime in Port Moresby, PNG

crime in port moresby. A member of the Raskol gangs of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Photo by: Stephen Dupont (Contact Press Images)

A member of the Raskol gangs of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Photo by: Stephen Dupont (Contact Press Images)

After further research, I feel compelled to write a little more about Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. For all the pretty pictures in my last post, I think I missed the real story.

Bob and I behaved quite like the typical tourists we seek to educate. We did not read up in advance about the dangers of the city. We strolled naively throughout the town and along deserted roads outside of town. We did leave our watches and jewelry behind, and we did dress down to the extent we were able. (We didn’t have torn jeans with us, the garb recommended in an old Time magazine article. And we were not out after dark. But I went out with a good camera and an iPod in a purse. Bob carried a new, $4,000 video camera. Were we nuts?

Crime in Port Moresby

Absolutely. And stupid. We did not know about the vicious criminals called the Raskols. Usually referred to as gangs, the Raskols are more accurately described as loose associations of thieves, according to tavurur, a Port Moresby native blogger. Practically anything you read about Port Moresby credits them for the city’s astronomical crime rate, then mitigates the blame by citing an unemployment rate of anywhere from 60-90%.

Numerous lengthy articles online detail the safety and security precautions necessary to lessen the risk of misfortune. Drive carefully, because the locals react emotionally and violently to accidents. But don’t drive too slowly or you’ll increase the likelihood of being carjacked. Carry cash to hand over when you’re accosted. Move about with a certified escort. Women, don’t wear shorts or pants if you don’t want to be raped or gang-raped. The lists go on and on, one of which even advises (jokingly, I presume) chewing betel nut to look like a local.

crime in port moresby. Eric Lafforgue's Papua New Guinea photos. Click this image to go to all 466 of them.

Eric Lafforgue's Papua New Guinea photos are phenomenal. Click this image to go to all 466 of them.

In retrospect, Bob and I presented a tasty target. Alone, smiley, swinging our cameras… I’m thinking of the minutes we spent at a secluded dead-end high above the shore, looking down at a christening ceremony. We watched the formally dressed witnesses on the sand and the participants wading chest-deep in the sea. We looked across to a far village of houses on stilts over the water. It never occurred to us that we should be watching our backs.

It’s easy to be seduced by the sheer exoticism of Papua New Guinea, by the natives in traditional costumes, the spectacular flora and fauna of the highlands and ocean reefs. Travel enthusiasts I’ve spoken with have been quick to say oh, I want to go there. Local dangers are defined in guides and online, easy to be found, but still—Bob and I managed to get there oblivious to the status quo. Not all tour operators or trip providers are forthcoming when it comes to negative publicity. The burden, in the end, falls on the traveler. Know before you go, as they say. Do your homework.

We should have.
© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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14 Comments

  • Tavurvur says:

    Hi there BV,

    I thought I’d post a short comment regarding your article – seeing that you quoted my description of my perspectives on raskols in PNG.

    I think your advice to travellers visiting PNG is accurate, just as tourists to any other country should do – do your research no matter how many days (or hours) you spend in a new country.

    You did the right thing when visiting Port Moresby (e.g. leaving jewlery/watches behind and not venturing out after dark), however, I think you fell in the trap that many visitors do and that is to over-exaggerate the “risk” poised to tourists. There is a discernable difference between tourists and expatriate residents of Port Moresby, and I do think carrying around a good camera and a $4K video camera was a good thing – as it quantified that difference.

    Papua New Guineans understand the importance tourists play in the economy of the country and 90% of tourists to PNG are welcomed with open arms and not bothered.

    A recent report revealed that the total murders reported in Sydney in 2008 out-stripped total murders in Port Moresby. I do not deny that there is a substantial amount of press that describes Port Moresby as a dangerous place – however, it is my experience that the best form of advice given to the tourist is from those people (including expatriates) that are or have lived in a country for a substantial number of years.

    I would encourage you and other visitors to PNG to do research, and ask questions of people with substantial experience in PNG. Port Moresby is like the tip of an iceberg – you need to dive under to actually see the other 95% of the whole. If you visit PNG – don’t stay in Port Moresby long – get out and visit the REAL Papua New Guinea and be amazed at the experiences our people and country can offer.

    Just like any other country, always be travel-smart and purchase travel-insurance, that way if you do lose your $4K video camera – you know it’ll be waiting for you when you get back home.

    Those tourists that have the most fun in PNG are those that mingle with our people and share stories and life experiences.

    Regards,

    Tavurvur

  • Bambi says:

    Thanks for your insight, Tavurvur. I hope you could tell from my previous post that we had a wonderful short visit to PNG. Fabulous! It was only after leaving that I understood the reputation of the city, and therefore felt sheepish that I hadn’t followed my own relentless advice. Nothing unique about my advice, either. Simply: research before you go. As you say, ask people with real experience. My point is that the visitor needs to heed those warnings, and behave as if the city’s reputation is valid. Even if, in reality, it’s exaggerated. And see? Here we are, safe and sound, having visited “the most dangerous capital city in the world” without incident. But it wasn’t smart to go ignorant.

  • meriPNG says:

    “Papua New Guineans understand the importance tourists play in the economy of the country and 90% of tourists to PNG are welcomed with open arms and not bothered.”

    That has to be one of the silliest comments
    I have ever heard.

    Do you honestly think any criminal would ever
    give any ounce of consideration towards the overall
    economy of a country that has given them nothing?
    There might be such thing as a greater good,
    but I am most certain those raskol’s are
    not out to pursue it.

    Here’s some advice as a local
    18 year old, Motuan (with unfortunately,
    many raskols for uncles)
    As much as I love Papua New Guinea.
    Don’t take that ‘Tavurvur’ seriously.

  • Sashi says:

    Hi ,

    I am considering a job offer in PNG. I have been reading the articles from morning… & I am a bit confused, about the whole thing, of taking up the assignment or not. Just to give you a back ground, I am from India & am no stranger to violence on the streets.
    Can someone who is benevolent enough to let me know more details on the same before I take the plunge & commit. My email id is sashi5576@yahoo.co.in , a private email would be much appreciated.

    Warm Regards
    Sashi Kant

  • RRJ says:

    In my 18 months in Papua New Guinea, albeit a few years ago, I had three members of different schoolfriend’s family members murdered and I was attacked in my own (securely fenced, guarded) house by over 50 Raskols. Rape and casual violence is the norm, alas. I am not a stranger to living in different countries and cultures, having spend a good deal of time living in East Africa, India, Peru and travelling much more widely, but this was something new. I left as soon as possible afterwards and do not plan to return. Do be warned and remember that there is a reason for the often enticingly high salaries on offer.

  • Bambi says:

    RR: Interesting to hear first-hand experiences from someone who lived in (I assume) Port Moresby. Did you leave with any positive memories? Learn much about the culture?

  • jon says:

    I have on a surfing trip to Kavieng the last 3 years and really enjoyed each trip. We stayed on a boat (Tiki2) the first time and went island hopping meeting many great local people. The next couple of years have been at Nusa Island Retreat with Shaun who is host and I now consider to be a friend. His staff and the locals we met in Kavieng were lovely people and the little kiddies with their curly bleached hair and big smiles are something else. Each trip has begun and ended in Port Morseby where we have spent a few days. We generally have had a guide or stayed in a hotel but although the city definately has issues we had fun there and as long as one is carefull I am sure it is worth the effort.

  • Bambi says:

    Thanks for your positive comments, Jon. You can see from my other post on Port Moresby that I, too, found good reasons to visit this fascinating place. I would love to see more of Papua New Guinea.

  • trav says:

    Hi,

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time in PNG. The country is awesome but there are serious risks that you have to consider. Crime is a problem, but many people are forced into crime by virtue of their circumstances. There are a number of other risks and hazards not normally experienced in other parts of the world.

    With all that said, you can travel and move about PNG safely if you apply sound personal security measures, don’t do stupid things and maintain a good level of awareness.

    International media tends to focus on reporting bad things that occur in PNG. Bad things happen of course, but they happen in every country.

    PNG is worth a look, as long as it is done smartly. I have an adventure nearly every time I visit PNG.

    Play smart, stay safe.

  • Good advice, trav. But you know, it repeatedly strikes me how unsavvy most travelers are. They have no idea of the risk or the odds of danger while visiting unfamiliar places. And actually, I have to include myself in that category in relation to my first visit to Port Moresby. I was focused on the art and tribal exoticism, and completely ignorant of the street crime and gang activity. Shame on me—it’s my job to research those things!

    The thing is, it seems to me that Port Moresby crime is more violent, and perhaps more frequent, more likely, than in most other cities. The repercussions are higher, too.

    I agree with you that the burden is on the traveler to get informed and play by the rules (don’t carry valuables; stay in designated areas; don’t wander after dark; etc.). My job is describing the potential risks when you don’t “play smart.”

    You have more experience in PNG than I do, and I thank you for your point of view.

    If you can add more, you’re most welcome to!

  • Jade says:

    Hey guys,
    i am an 18yr old male who is in the process of arranging a trip to port moresby with two friends, one who is a local and another who isn’t. As 18 we want to have fun on our trip, go out and enjoy ourselves. My father is saying avoid port moresby because of the crime rate although he has never been there what would you say to the idea as going there with 2 mates and having fun, is there a safe way of doing it or not?
    cheers Jade

  • Why take such a risk, Jade? Even if you’re a very wise and cautious 18-year-old, you can’t undo a mugging. Research more online and, if you really really really want to choose Port Moresby, find a group with a tour leader who can take you around and point you to safe activities and destinations on your independent hours. Meanwhile, it’s a big world with endless fabulous places to go that won’t give your father heartburn.

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