Papua New Guinea, China and the Pacific...
Just over two weeks ago I arrived in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, or, as the locals like to call it, PNG.
The city rates number 130 on an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) 2004 list of the '130 Worst Places To Live On Earth'.
OK, old data, but you get the point. Car-jackings, rape, murder, muggings, poverty, poor healthcare, Port Moresby has them all - and in abundance too.
But I rather like the place. Despite the various NGO 'security protocols' put in place to prevent me from roaming the city to get some street scenes, I did manage to squeeze out this handful of pix taken 'shot gun-style' from a car passenger window.
I was under strict curfew - completely forbidden to leave 'the compound' unaccompanied for any reason, and under any circumstances.
I didn't argue. Crime here is as bad as they say it is, and car-jackings are rife.
In fact one guy working for the World Bank got car-jacked in his shiny SUV right by the hotel I had been having dinner at the night before. He wound up dead.
Yet Port Moresby has all of that Pacific Island grittiness that I love, but just can't put into words.
The place feels like an Asian Africa, if that makes any sense. The airport was interesting too, in its own way.
Here is Air Niugini's first ever plane - a Douglas DC-3.
But I didn't come here to explore the grittiness of Port Moresby, like this Chinese restaurant shot through the dark-tinted glass of a car window.
I came here to bear witness to environmental crimes being wrought daily in the Pacific. I flew here on assignment to join the Greenpeace ship 'MY Esperanza' which is touring the Pacific as part of their 'Defending the Pacific 2011' tour.
Tribal representatives from the surrounding areas of Port Moresby were more than delighted to welcome Greenpeace to their corrupt and crime-ridden land.
Greenpeace has been sticking up for indigenous rights here for a while now.
In fact the ship had just come back from defending traditional landowners in PNG's Western Province from illegal logging.
See my friend, colleague and fellow Greenpeace photographer Paul Hilton's pix of that campaign, here.
One Greenpeace activist told me that triad gangs from Fujian Province in China are getting stuck in, sucking the forests dry of logs and and every other living thing that moves. They are setting up logging camps in the jungle where gambling, karaoke, prostituion and the consumption of endangered species are replacing traditional ways of life. Ways of life that are in harmony with nature, not against her. According to traditional landowners and the local media, in this hidden corner of the world, Chinese logging companies, with a little help from their triad friends, are acting with impunity.
For those readers who can't strain their eyes, the 'Post Courier', ran the photo above with a caption that reads: "Chinese logging ship Fu Tian was pictured loading logs yesterday at the log pond at Drina, West Pomio LLG in East New Britain Province. It is believed the ship has made eight trips out of Papua New Guinea already, despite an order put in place by former acting Prime Minister Sam Abal to stop operating until a commission of enquiry is completed. Picture: JOHN PANGKATANA". (It is interesting to note that the 'Post Courier' is one of two national newspapers in Papua New Guinea. The other one, 'The Nation', is owned by a logging company.)
Ah, China. When will she start behaving like a grown up? So to kick things off, here's a shot of the Chinese embassy in Papua New Guinea. Unsurprising if you know me, I'll be blogging more about China's role in the Pacific later.
And whilst we are on the subject of China - well Hong Kong actually - here's a shot I took of a Hong Kong-registered vessel carrying timber as we left port.
Not content with coming to PNG to rob the country of logs, this vessel is giving the locals a taste of good old Hong Kong-style marine air pollution. If you are going to do a land grab, why not make it a dirty one? This scene would not look out of place in Kwai Chung. And here's a closer crop...
Hong Kong is my adopted home. But at time like this, I sometimes feel ashamed to say so.
More on Greenpeace's PNG illegal logging campaign here.
ALEX HOFFORD : PORT MORESBY PAPUA NEW GUINEA GREENPEACE PHOTOGRAPHER