26 March 2011 | Kokopo, New Britain, Papua New Guinea
It's been 2 ½ weeks since the break-in and robbery and it's time to say UNCLE.
There's one bit of the story I didn't include on the last post. Two nights before the break-in, our second in PNG, we were also awakened in the middle of the night by someone banging on the doors in the cockpit. Jim grabbed the pepper spray and worked his way aft where, from the same galley port he sprayed the guys in Colombia, he could see 2 men sitting the cockpit, one with huge shotgun between his legs. They kept saying "Police! Police! Don't be afraid! We're the police." One was in a police shirt, and the guy with the gun didn't seem intent on using it, so after several minutes of conversation through the locked doors, Jim cautiously opened them. They said that they'd received a report that "the yacht was being hol' up," so hired a banana boat on the beach (one of dozens of skiffs that serve as taxi boats between the coastal villages) to ferry them out to us -- the police of course not having a boat of their own. They didn't know the source of the report, only that they were told to go out and check it out. We assured them we were fine and thanked them for coming, though we weren't at all happy that the 3 guys in the banana boat were on board, wandering around the deck while this conversation was going on. When they left, they gave us their names and police station phone number, and, "Oh, by the way, can you give us money to pay the boat for bringing us out here?" The next morning we confirmed that our visitors were, in fact, policemen, but there was no log of the call and nobody at the station knew anything about it.
Since the robbery two nights after that, we have diligently engaged in the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We called the police daily: usually no answer; we visited the police: our CID agent, Vanessa, usually not there. If we did mange to find or talk to Vanessa, she would say, "I'll call you this afternoon," but never did. One day she got our hopes up telling us, "We're sending an officer out to pick up a guy named 'Dougie' and will call you when they get here." They never did. The Police Commander had given us his mobile number and took one call from Jim, but we were never able to get through again. An Australian prosecutor serving as an adviser to the PNG court system and staying at the resort where we were anchored even spoke to the Police Commander on our behalf and concluded: give it up.
There is little trust or confidence in the police and both locals and expats suspected the police may even have been involved. Like us, they found the police visit 2 nights earlier, especially with the 3 boat guys wandering around the deck, suspicious. On the rare occasions we were ever able to talk to Vanessa we urged her to find and question the 3 guys from the banana boat. The more we thought about it, the more we suspected that in their wandering around the deck, they were perhaps casing the boat for means of entry. And the guys who did eventually get in got in the only way they could, which would not have been obvious to your casual canoe paddler in the middle of the night. But it seemed that every time we suggested this to her she was hearing it for the first time. It probably doesn't help that all of the police (including Vanessa) constantly chew great disgusting red gobs of mind-numbing beetle nut.
The lingering mystery of the police visit was eventually solved when we were hooked up with the owner of a private security firm -- part Rambo, part chunky Bruce Lee, who carried a 9 mm Glock in each of his two front pockets. It turns out that he had sent the two cops to visit us that night, having seen what he thought were flashing lights from the boat as if we were "trying to signal something." He probably did see a flickering light from his perch on the shore, but it would simply have been the anchor light swinging from the boom in the slight chop in the anchorage. He agreed that the 3 guys on the boat were suspicious and said he'd follow up with the 2 cops he dispatched to check on us. His secretary typed up the list of stolen items on their letter head and he posted them around the town with instructions to contact him if anyone knew anything. Reward offered. He said he'd know something tomorrow. That was 3 days ago and we haven't heard a word since.
In the middle of all this tail-chasing, Jim woke early one morning designing in his head a set of burglar bars to fit inside the hatch the guys dropped through. He and an Aussie boat builder doodled and refined the design and we are now securely caged into our V-berth bunk. Jim's goal was to "stall them 10 seconds to be able to grab the pepper spray and blast 'em." I don't much like the jail house look, but, then, I don't much like the still-vivid memory of the 2 guys dropping in on top of us, so I'll get used to it.
We've been in Kokopo too long and it's clear the overworked, underpaid, largely corrupt, and mostly incompetent police aren't going to find our stuff. And it's only stuff. Time to move on.