Under darkness’: How armed men snuck through border

TWO Papua New Guinean fugitives allegedly hid on Thursday Island for days while chasing down a drug debt.

The two men, allegedly armed with machetes, had crossed the Torres Strait under cover of darkness.

A combined federal and state police operation eventually found the two men.

But Torres Shire Mayor Vonda Malone was scathing that agencies did not consult with locals.

"There was a lot of toing and froing about who could do what," Cr Malone said.

"We just wanted them to get on with it."

The men, two of four who had island hopped to Prince of Wales Island and then split up, hid in the TI wilderness while Australian Border Force, Federal and State police organised themselves.

The men had left a country in the grip of a pandemic that has been steadily ratcheting north.

Earlier this week PNG recorded 31 new cases over night, bringing their total to 760.

Until they were taken into custody there was no way of knowing the coronavirus risk to the Thursday Island community.

Cr Vonda Malone, Mayor of the Torres Shire Council, on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. Picture: Marc McCormack
Cr Vonda Malone, Mayor of the Torres Shire Council, on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. Picture: Marc McCormack


Cr Malone said locals took the initiative and fed the agency intelligence.

"Without community input they would still be out there," Cr Malone said.

"At first they wouldn't even talk to the community about it, it was absolutely ridiculous."

An Australian Border Force spokesman said the hiding men were eventually cornered.

"The ABF can confirm that four male PNG nationals have been located by ABF and partner agencies," the spokesman said.

The two men on TI were at large for seven days.

"In addition to two men detained on November 11, two men were apprehended on December 4, 2020 and later detained," the spokesman said.

An aerial shot of Thursday Island in the Torres Strait with Prince of Wales Island and Horn Island in the background.
An aerial shot of Thursday Island in the Torres Strait with Prince of Wales Island and Horn Island in the background.

"None of the men held visas allowing for their presence in Australia. Since border closure measures were implemented in March 2020, a comparatively small number of people have attempted to enter the Torres Strait."

But Cr Malone was scathing about the federal agencies.

"We told the agencies they would come during the night while everyone was tucked into bed," she said.

"When the sh*t hits the fan, we have to do it ourselves."

Last month Prime Minister Scott Morrison pushed for a fair distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine throughout the Pacific Rim.

 

 

Originally published as Under darkness': How armed men snuck through border


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