Papua New Guinea: scientists/sailors missing, pirates now suspected

The group had set sail from West Britain Island for Bali-Witu and then disappeared, thought lost at sea
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Not only Somalia and Nigeria are dangerous for the roving adventurer of sailor. Three scientists missing after setting sail from New Britain Islands in New Guinea are now thought to have been killed by pirates, along with the crew of the boat, with two others are still held hostage.

Police say they now fear the three male scientists and the boat's crew have been killed, while the two female scientists are being held hostage on the remote Mulgani Island.

The five scientists, team leader Gibson Gideon, Leonard Vavana, George Dogoya, Tania Oakiva and Lydia Petrus, all from Papua New Guinea, vanished after launching their 23-foot boat from the town of Milimata on August 1, and for many weeks it was thought that the group had been lost at sea when they failed to arrive at nearby Bali-Witu islands, part of West New Britain province.

They were intending to work as part of a Malaria research project for the Goroka based PNG Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR).

While the group had been missing thought drowned for two months, police have said a tip-off from local villagers has lead them to believe that the group were the victims of piracy.

A villager claims to have seen the two women from the research team alive, and that they are being held hostage on the tiny and densely-forested Mulgani Island.

'There were reports that a boat chased them,' New Guinea Islands regional commander Anton Billie told AAP.

'The informant lead us to the area ... we found 10 machetes, two home made guns and four mosquito nets from the scientist's boat, mattresses and about 200 marijuana plants.'

He said when an investigative unit from Rabaul arrived on the site at about 6am on Sunday, the camp was deserted, but footprints around the camp led police to believe the pirates had fled into the thickly forested, mountainous area that sets the backdrop to the swampy island.

'There was a fire still burning,' Mr Billie said.

Police called off the search because of the rough terrain, and are now relying on local villagers to help find the women.

He said police have told villagers to let the suspected pirates know that they have until Friday to return Ms Oakiva and Ms Petrus, or risk a full scale police hunt.

The body of the boat's skipper was believed to have washed up on Manus Island last month.

Mr Billie said he believed the male scientists had been killed in the raid, with the police informant saying the skipper was shot in the moments after the pirates boarded the boat.