Australia and New Zealand have been blamed for elevating the growth of organised crime across a number of Melanesian nations.
But Oceania still has the lowest rates among comparisons of continents, according to a 2021 Global Organised Crime Index report.
Six of the eight least criminalised states are located over the Pacific region despite a number of illicit economies taking hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the report adds “others are seemingly on the rise”.
Tuvalu has the least amount of organised criminal activity in the world just ahead of Nauru.
Samoa, Vanuatu, Marshall Islands and Kiribati are only behind Sao Tome and Principe, off the coast of central west Africa, and the European principality of Liechtenstein.
New Zealand ranks an admirable 172nd out of 195 independent sovereign countries, including most of the world’s microstates, in the list. Australia scored 145th in the world – two spots ahead of Fiji.
But alarmingly “significant or extreme levels” of criminality has Papua New Guinea score 69th in the world, which is 66 spots ahead of Melanesian neighbour, Solomon Islands.
A national record drug bust of 500 kilograms of cocaine last year following a crash-landing of a plane outside Port Moresby was its biggest illustration of a rise.
The country was also found to hold “quite pervasive” criminal markets in flora plant crimes and in human trafficking, while it also ranked high across arms trafficking, cannabis, and non-renewable resource crimes, such as crude oil or natural gas.
The report said the Solomon Islands and Fiji were considered outliers in a regional context to having significantly higher levels of criminality than countries further north in Micronesia and to the east in Polynesia.
But its close proximity to larger destination markets for organised crime was a contributing factor.
“As the last transit stages before reaching these large markets (in Australia), organised crime groups are increasingly using Melanesian islands as the transit hubs for arms, cocaine, and synthetic drugs, which drives up overall crime levels,” the report said.
Fiji and Papua New Guinea rank high for trafficking of cocaine, only behind larger Australia in the region.
Oceania is the fourth highest region for trafficking synthetic – or designer – drugs including ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamines to feed Australia’s addiction as one of the world’s major consumers.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing ensured the region was ranked the third worst in the world for fauna-related crimes.
The lack of capacity to patrol extensive economic zones between island states also made the Pacific waters more vulnerable to the activity.
Melanesia was also identified as “somewhat of an outlier”, acting as a transit hub, for either criminal networks, and state-embedded crimes and foreign criminal influence.
Anti-money laundering was another area where experts noted that Melanesia requires “significant improvements”.
This comes on the back of a Vanuatu golden passports scheme that allowed thousands of foreign nationals that were allegedly either gang members, cryptocurrency thieves or extortionists to obtain citizenship and permitted them to exploit tax laws and launder illicit proceeds.
But despite this illegal operation, no mafia-related crime was identified throughout the Pacific.
Experts identified the biggest obstacle to a more coherent approach to tackling organised crime in the subregion to be lack of effective victim and witness support mechanisms.