'They're killing people at sea': The lucrative PNG trade that gave rise to pirates

Families from PNG's Manus province are losing their loved ones to the betel nut trade, with piracy posing a deadly risk

Standing by the shoreline at her home on Los Negros Island, Agnes Boyou looks out at a makeshift ocean grave for six members of her family.

It's been two years since her son David John, his two sons and three cousins set off from Manus province and made the treacherous journey in a small dinghy to Papua New Guinea's (PNG) mainland.

He'd been making the 800-kilometre round trip for five years, earning a living through the trade of betel nut.

But this journey was to be his last.

Ms Boyou says her son's plan was to buy betel nut from Madang and sell it to pay for a new car and his sons' primary school fees.

"The kids didn't listen when we tried to stop them … they both tried to follow their father," she says.

"Their mother was in town and had no idea. When she found out, it was too late and they had already left."

In the early hours of the next day as he was returning from Madang, Mr John tried to call his wife seven times.

By the time she rang back, it was too late. The call went straight to voicemail.

After searching the nearby islands off the mainland and scouring an enormous expanse of ocean for months, the family found no sign of them.

A year after Mr John's boat disappeared, the search was closed off. In a ceremony at sea, families laid wreaths on the reef for their loved ones, lost forever.

Locals on Manus say in the last decade, dozens of betel nut or buai traders have gone missing doing the run to and from the mainland.

They say some of them drown, but others meet their ends at the hands of a more menacing threat: pirates.

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Story by ABC NEWS

Author: 
Tim Swanston and Theckla Gunga - ABC News