12 Sep 2013

Two porters killed in an attack in Morobe Province

5:00 pm on 12 September 2013

Two porters with a group of trekkers in Papua New Guinea have been killed in an attack on the Black Cat Track in Morobe Province.

The group included trekkers from Australia, New Zealand and PNG.

Some of the trekkers and another 10 porters suffered knife wounds.

The foreigners among the trekkers were robbed before walking out to raise the alarm.

The New Zealand managers of the company involved, PNG Trekking Adventures, say they're confident the police will find the culprits who attacked their clients.

The Black Cat Track, which was the scene of bitter fighting between Australian and US troops and Japanese forces in 1943, is regarded as one of the most arduous walks in PNG.

Mark Hitchcock told Suzy Ferguson about the appeal of the track.

MARK HITCHCOCK: It's a very remote area. It's a very rustic and raw part of PNG, and it has a lot of war history from World War 2. And that's the attraction. It's a very pristine and beautiful place and a very hard track to trek. And that's part of the attraction - they physical nature of the trek. It's a very picturesque and in a very nice part of Papua New Guinea.

SUZY FERGUSON: And is it also a very dangerous area?

MH: No. This we believe to be an isolated incident. The local police, the Port Moresby police, are on the scene and we're leaving it to them to establish exactly what happened and get to the facts of that incident.

SF: Is this the first time you've had any trouble with trekkers on this particular track?

MH: This is the first time that we've had any trouble on any track in PNG in our 10 years of trekking. I understand that there was a very localised robbery incident some years ago on the Black Cat Track. Since then the Tourism Promotion Authority, along with ourselves, have promoted and trained and worked hard at actually making this a trek that's a better place to be and a good trek to trek. We've spent a lot of time to push and develop this area as an alternative trek in Papua New Guinea.

SF: And the locals, are they happy, are they comfortable, with the tours, with the tourists coming to the area?

MH: Yes, they have embraced tourism and they understand the benefits of tourism. They'll be deeply shocked to know this has happened in their area, on their track. So, yes, they understand the benefits of tourism.

SF: Do they see the benefits of it? Is the tourism set up in the way that the locals will actually see the benefits and will benefit financially or otherwise themselves?

MH: Yes, they do. We only use people from along the track to guide and porter all our tracks across the trek. We stay in all the local villages. We contribute to the villages while we're there. So we do assimilate with the villages when we're there. Yes, the trekkers and the local Papua New Guineans integrate well and they do see the direct benefits of the people on the track.

SF: When are you next running a tour along the Black Cat Track?

MH: We've suspended all operations on the Black Cat Track until further notice and we'll let the police do their job and establish exactly what happened on the track.

SF: And what are the police saying? What do you know about their investigation so far?

MH: All that I know is that there were local police that went up last night with the group that went to meet the trekkers and that this morning four police personnel were on a helicopter that flew to the site to assist in the Medevac of our porters. Those police are still on the location, I understand. They didn't return in the helicopters.

SF: And do you know if they, like you, are working on the theory, the presumption, that this was a robbery that went badly wrong?

MH: I wouldn't like to speculate what is behind it. But given that everything was stolen,I would believe that robbery was part of it, yes, or was the result. We really need to let the police do their job and establish exactly what happened - who was involved. And at this stage we don't know those things.

SF: And are you confident that the police will be able to do that job, that they have the resources, the manpower to find the culprits, to find who did this?

MH: I'm confident that the way they reacted in conjunction with the Australian High Commission and the Tourism Promotion Authority and ourselves. The reaction from the police was very, very quick. That gives us a strong belief that they will be able to discover what happened up there.