Surviving Carjacking’s in Port Moresby

Australian media have pounced on video footage from this week that was posted on one of the PNG Expat Facebook pages.

The footage is of an Australian family who were travelling down snake road in Sogeri, just out of Port Moresby.

YouTube Link here:

Basically, they were travelling by themselves, when a car overtook them dangerously, and then proceeded to pull up in front of them blocking the road. A bunch of armed rascals jumped out of the car and started running towards them. The super quick and sensible reactions of the driver really saved them from being victims (I’m in awe of his fantastic reversing skills). He reversed back up the road very quickly, past a vehicle that was following them. According to reports, the vehicle following them may have also been part of the carjacking attempt, however on some other Facebook pages a PNG local advised that it was her family in the second car, and they indeed ended up being the victims of the carjacking.

Really scary stuff and I so feel for both the expats and the locals who were targeted. Again, the actions of a very small minority paint PNG into such a bad light, it’s such a shame.

A lot of expats are very fortunate with the type of security briefing that they get on entering Papua New Guinea. All the big Oil and Gas companies, Banks, and Government/Overseas Agencies all have put a lot of effort into giving briefings, providing duress systems and generally trying to make PNG as safe a place as possible. Ultimately, this can be a bit detrimental to your movements, and can make life a little more constrained. The Security industry in PNG is very much a boom industry, however it is highly unlikely a security guard on minimum wage is going to put themselves in harms way if shit did go down. In fact, my experiences were that the Security Guards were either overpowered by armed rascals, or they cleared out as fast as they could run and hide. Of course, sometimes they are the criminal. It paints a poor picture, given that there are some very hardworking honest Security Guards that really were concerned for your safety and would do anything to make sure you were safe, and certainly Security Companies in PNG are becoming very professional.

Although I was responsible for the IT department, I also picked up a few other departments along the way including being the go to guy for our security until we hired a dedicated security manager this past year. With any new Expat I would sit down and give them a small security briefing. We didn’t use radio’s as much as we could have if we were all living together, but all our vehicles were equipped with tracking and duress systems. And yes, they did get used at various times. Cars involved in car accidents were the main culprit, and I would go out, sort out if there were any problems and make sure all was well – much to my wife’s dislike. I don’t know if it was my former military training (that was a long time ago), or just my kiwiness, but I was able to diffuse situations relatively quickly without creating extra conflict.

This recent PNG/Sogeri incident just highlights that you have to be prepared to do things that Security briefings tell you not to do. Security will advise to comply with demands, get everyone out of the car, and hand over your belongings if asked. I think you have to do whatever is right for the situation you are in. In this case, I would most likely have slapped my car into reverse as well. Although in saying that, at the point where the car originally passed – I would have put lots of distance between us by slowing down and observing, or just flooring the accelerator and passing them immediately. Being an aggressive driver in PNG is pretty important.

Above all though, is not to second guess your response. I found out last year when a groups of thugs attempted to carjack me, that doing “what if” scenarios was detrimental to my mental state of mind, and it didn’t help. What I figured out, was that the choices I made were exactly the right choices for me – I made peace with myself. And if that means you are robbed or carjacked, then you were very unlucky – eventually you will be able to deal with it, and you will get by. In general terms, carjackings in PNG very rarely end up with someone dead – although it has happened, so you need to be prepared for the horrible consequences of what may happen.

One of the things that we did as a family, was to use a lot of prevention. We varied our routines, we travelled different roads, we didn’t become too complacent. Some roads that we knew were a bit dodgy at night – we never travelled. We ALWAYS locked our doors and put windows up. And always had our car keys ready before we approached the car. One of my colleagues used to have his finger on the “lock” on the key fob, so that he didn’t have to try and hit the central locking on the door – he just had to beep his car locked again – a great idea and one that I was practising with before we left Port Moresby.

We also tried to travel in convoy where possible, even staying out later with friends so that we could all go home together. Even if we had the opportunity to carpool, we would still take multiple cars. Our kids understood what to do if we were carjacked, and we had drills that we practised with them – our youngest was always buckled in on the drivers side of the car, so that if we were by ourselves it would be easy to get her out of the car. We quickly ditched the very hard to put in/out car seats as soon as she was big enough for a booster..

Every place we parked, or every road we drove, we were always scanning our environment, ensuring we weren’t being tailed, ensuring the road ahead was clear. When turning into our compound, we always made sure the road was clear, we always tried to have an exit path just in case. We never jammed ourselves against a gate as this would be a prime opportunity for being carjacked, stuck in front of a slow opening gate with no where to go. Guards are there to protect the compound, so thier first reaction is to close the gate…

Of course – you can still do all that, and yet be in the wrong place at the wrong time (as I found out)

I also always carried a slim dummy (throw down) wallet that had money in it, but also a card with my company details on it (in both wallets). There is always a chance you can get your wallet back with it’s contents for a “fee”, so it’s important to make sure that there is something in there that identifies your company or your partners company, so the wantok network can do it’s thing and get your gear back to you.

And above all – talk to your PNG teams about your movements. Papua New Guineas know more about what is going on than any security alert I’ve ever had. I trusted my team implicitly and had the benefit of their advise on many occasions. It’s also great if you can take your teams out with you, not only do they enjoy it but it creates a great bond with your family and theirs – some of my fondest memories are of spending time out and about with my PNG wantoks.