We're still working on our own traveller-specific safety tips for Samoa.
In the meantime here's some great information from the US State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), which is part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The information is specific to US citizens, ex-pats as well as tourists, and consular and government staff working overseas.
Not ideal, but until our own reports are ready you'll get an idea of the level of security and issues you might face.
Generally, Samoa's crime rate is considered relatively low as compared to nearby Pacific Islands. Samoa continues to see a proliferation in property crime and residential break-ins due to economic difficulties, the rise in the cost of living, and increased unemployment.
The majority of the crimes tend to occur in and around Samoa's capital city Apia; Samoa's largest city acts as its economic and employment center. The most common offences dealt with by police are possession of narcotics, burglary, assaults, and a growing rate of theft from an employer. Criminal activity in Apia is routinely centered around robbery and theft. Adhere to practical security practices, such as traveling in groups, avoiding dimly lit areas, and keeping a low profile. Outside the city in residential neighborhoods, burglaries are rising in the more affluent areas. Some residents of these areas employ a type of countermeasure, i.e. alarm system or static/roving guards.
The Vaitele Industrial zone saw an influx of several new business ventures in the new market developed as a government project. This government investment attracted a number of businesses, but also brought a criminal element that preys on unsuspecting residents and smaller shops lacking the resources to hire private security and/or properly secure their facilities.
Street crimes in the major urban areas, such as theft from vehicles, alcohol-related fights at the local night clubs, pick-pocketing, and scams are routine occurrences, and foreign tourists are frequently the victims. The police have addressed these street crimes by providing more officers on the streets in the most at risk areas; their efforts have been successful in reducing the incidents. The relocation of two nightclubs has also reduced criminal activity by dispersing the criminal elements farther afield.
Gang activity is nonexistent. Police reports indicate there have been no violent incidents attributed to gang activity.
Traffic congestion in and around Apia's Central Business District is a problem, with significant numbers of unlicensed drivers in vehicles that are not roadworthy. Another consistent issue is the overall maintenance of the roads and potholes, especially after a heavy rainfall that causes flooding. A contributing factor is the now obsolete drainage system in Apia that for 20 years has been unable to accommodate the rapid population increase and numbers of new businesses.
Samoa introduced the Instant Fine Act in 2009 that provided the basis for the instant issuance of fines for minor traffic offences. The Act targets the issues of unlicensed drivers and unregistered vehicles. According to 2011 Land Transport Authority records, the number of unlicensed drivers and vehicles have been significantly reduced.
The Breathalyser Amendment Act of 2009 was implemented in 2011. This Act targets drivers under the influence of alcohol and imposes more severe penalties. It has massively reduced the number of accidents involving drunk drivers.
Samoa has had very little political violence, making it one of the most stable island nations in the Pacific. The last politically-motivated incident was the assassination of a member of parliament in 2000. The assassin and co-conspirators (former members of Parliament) were found guilty and were sentenced to life imprisonment. Recent threats from a family member of the convicted collaborators and jailed assassin toward the Prime Minister have made headlines, although the police report there is no current threat to the Prime Minister or Cabinet members.
The HRPP (Human Rights Protection Party) under the leadership of current Prime Minister Fatialofa Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi have been the ruling party since 1998.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Samoan islands were split into two sections. The eastern islands became territories of the United States in 1904 and are known as American Samoa. The western islands became known as Western Samoa (now the Independent State of Samoa), passing from German control to New Zealand in 1914. New Zealand administered Western Samoa under the auspices of the League of Nations and then as a U.N. trusteeship until independence in 1962. Western Samoa was the first Pacific Island country to gain its independence.
In July 1997, the Constitution was amended to change the country's name from Western Samoa to Samoa (officially the "Independent State of Samoa"). Western Samoa had been known simply as Samoa in the United Nations since joining the organization in 1976. The neighboring U.S. territory of American Samoa protested the move, feeling that the change diminished its own Samoan identity. American Samoans still use the terms Western Samoa and Western Samoans.
Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime
Samoa has no known indigenous or anti-American terrorist groups operating within its borders.
That said, Pacific island nations are increasingly being used as transit points in the illicit movement of drugs, weapons, and people by organized crime groups, which can go hand-in-hand with terrorism. Organized crime groups are typically involved in transnational crime with overseas criminal connections. According to the 2010 Pacific Transnational Crime Assessment, these organizations are attempting to exploit vulnerabilities in the banking and financial sector through identity crime as well as more traditional activities. The Pacific nations are pursuing a coordinated response, including potential new legislation and the introduction of training and reporting designed to better identify potential threats.
International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism
Samoa has no known international or transnational terrorist groups operating within its borders. That said, Pacific island nations are increasingly being used as transit points in the illicit movement of drugs, weapons, and people by organized crime groups, which can go hand-in-hand with terrorism.
Samoa has a Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002, which was enacted shortly after 9/11 with Australian assistance; it is not a comprehensive act. Samoa is in the final review of its Crime Bill. The new Bill targets transnational crimes covering human trafficking, smuggling, narcotic-related offences, money laundering, and terrorism.
Samoa has limited capability to combat a terrorist attack. Terrorism investigations can be divided into preventative investigations or a post-event investigation. Samoa has the Transnational Crime Unit (TCU) and resources of the Pacific Transnational Crime Control Centre (PTCCC), which is backed by Australian and U.S. support to assist with preventative investigations. In the event of an event, there have been a number of programs run by Australia and other agencies to develop a whole-of-government approach to a post-event investigation and recovery.
Samoa does have a terrorism organization intelligence list. If it became necessary (possibly under the new legislation), then they would most likely defer to the U.N. list. Management of this list and associated intelligence would be within the TCU, a part of regional PTCCC.
The threat of civil unrest or war is very low. The most recent protests occurring in Samoa were in relation to the shift from driving on the right-hand side of the road to the left – going from American-style to British-style. There has only been one anti-American protest in recent years. In 2007, there was a peaceful protest in relation to the arrest of a Samoan minister in the United States. The case was ultimately dismissed.
The possibility of natural disasters, including cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions are the greatest threats. The area surrounding Samoa experiences numerous earthquakes throughout the year, some causing tsunamis. In September 2009, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake south of Samoa generated a tsunami, which killed 189 people in Samoa and caused massive damage. The country has gone through the process of recovering and rebuilding most of the devastated areas with a large amount of aid coming from China, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Samoa has installed an audible tsunami warning system. To aid in reaction time, local telephones services have also contributed to this system by sending instant messages to all cell phones.
The cyclone season typically lasts from November to April and has the potential to, and often does, cause considerable damage. In January 2004, Cyclone Heta created countrywide destruction, which resulted in multiple deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Heavy rainfall associated with these storms often causes extensive flooding of coastal areas that taints water supplies and cause landslides. Apia has experienced more frequent flooding as the antiquated drainage system lacks the capacity to compensate for the development and growth within the CBD.
The Disaster Management Office (DMO) and Disaster Advisory Committee (DAC) form the focal point for coordination and implementation of all disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery programmers and activities. The National Disaster Council is responsible for oversight and approval of all disaster management activities, as advised by the DAC. During disaster response, DAC coordinates and manages response activities from the National Emergency Operations Center and reports to the NDC for direction and decision making as required.
The Samoan government in conjunction with the Samoa Fire and Emergency Services established the Volunteer Emergency Response Team (VERT) to respond to natural disasters and emergencies. The VERT will assist in search and rescue, recovery, sea patrols, water-based medical evacuations, and provide first aid support in the field. Australian funding has provided specialised equipment, technical training, and assistance to set up Samoa's VERT, which includes a focus on water safety.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
There were no major industrial or transportation accidents in 2011.
Drug and Narco-terrorism
Samoa has experienced an increase in drug violations, likely due to foreign influence from larger nations such as New Zealand or Fiji. Drug-related arrests – marijuana being the drug of choice – have increased significantly since last year. One factor causing this increase is the lucrative business of exportation of marijuana via ferry to American Samoa in exchange for crystal methamphetamine. The Pacific island nations are increasingly becoming transit points for the shipment of illicit drugs by organized crime elements.
The use of crystal methamphetamine is limited to the upper class or those who can afford the price, but the most prevalent and accessible drug is marijuana. The Samoa police have conducted drug awareness programs that have prompted most villages to be more alert and familiar with the symptoms and the effects of marijuana. This has brought some positive changes within Samoan communities as the village leaders and parents are uniting to fight against the use of marijuana and its dealers.
Visitors and Westerners can expect to receive adequate police assistance from local authorities, with no complaints of police harassment reported to any of the respective high commissions or embassies. The professionalism of the Samoan police is considered above average in comparison with neighboring Pacific islands with periodic reports of corruption throughout the department. Police response has been bolstered in the past year with the addition of six new vehicles from the Samoan government.
The Samoan police do not employ enough officers to cover the entire country; there are approximately 601 police officers in Samoa, 570 are sworn in, and 31 are non-sworn in (temporary or volunteer status) and awaiting vacancies in a future next recruitment class or assisting with major events in the country such as the South Pacific Games.
There is increasing pressure for the police to address corruption. The public has criticized the Samoa Police Department and the Police Commissioner over internal problems regarding high-ranking officers being convicted of brutality, rape, sodomy and other felonies.
Police have also seen an increase in grievances from Tafaigata prisoners complaining about prison conditions. In response to criticism related to the prison, the Commissioner focused more resources on corrections as well as announced the completion of a new wing at the Tafaigata Prison and a complete renovation of the Prison in Savaii.
The Australian government, in association with the Samoan Service Police Project, continued their support through training in the area of forensics, where senior police officers were sent overseas for fingerprint training and training associated with preparation of a laboratory within the Ministry. The New Zealand Police Department under the Metro Assistance Program has provided training in community policing, domestic violence, and advanced police prosecution. The Samoan Police Special Response Unit (SRU) has been trained by Australia and New Zealand but has severely limited capability.
The current system of law enforcement authority outside larger cities is closely shared with local chiefs and a force of local magistrates, thus creating good communication and strong relations between the two groups. Minor crimes are dealt with by the local chiefs. If the crime is severe, local magistrates will call on assistance from central police authorities.
The phone numbers for fire, police, and medical are as follows:
*These numbers will work from cell phones or landlines.
Medical and dental care throughout Samoa does not meet western standards, and medical evacuation for serious illness or injury is recommended. For medical emergencies, every village district is serviced by sub-centers. Depending on the severity of the medical situation, patients may be evacuated to one of the two national hospitals located on Upolu and Savai'i.
The phone numbers for fire, police, and medical are as follows:
*These numbers will work from cell phones or landlines.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The majority of crimes in Samoa are crimes of opportunity. Visitors should always be cognizant of their surroundings and use caution in the area of the seawall adjacent to the local night clubs and bars, especially at night.
Avoid short cuts, narrow alleys, or poorly lit streets.
Travel in groups at night.
Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
Be wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
If you are confronted, give-up your valuables; no personal possession is worth your life.
Keep the door to your hotel room locked at all times.
Do not leave valuables in the car. If you must leave items in the car, keep them locked in the trunk.
Never pick up hitchhikers.
Do not flash large amounts of money.
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