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Solomon Islands suspends foreign naval visits after US ship unable to dock


The move, which comes amid regional concerns over China’s strengthening ties with the nation, would hold until new processes for granting permission to foreign ships to enter the archipelago’s waters was produced, the Solomon Islands government said last night.

The US Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry had been conducting patrols as part of an international mission to prevent illegal fishing when it asked to dock in Honiara earlier this month.

US Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry. (Solomon Islands government)

It was taking part in Operation Island Chief monitoring fishing activities in the Pacific, which ended on Friday, when it sought to make a scheduled stop at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, to refuel and re-provision, the Coast Guard office in Honolulu said earlier this week.

However, there was no response from the Solomon Islands’ government for diplomatic clearance for the vessel to stop there, so the Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea, the Coast Guard said.

Sogavare yesterday sought to clarify some “misinformation” regarding the incident and another involving a United Kingdom Royal Navy vessel.

He claimed the Oliver Henry was delayed permission to enter because the “appropriate information” hadn’t been sent to his office in time.

The move comes amid regional concerns over China’s strengthening ties with the nation. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP, File) (AP)

“Unfortunately, by the time the approval was communicated on the evening of 20th August 2022, the Ship’s captain had decided to leave our waters,” Sogavare said.

The comments don’t match the timeline provided by the US Coast Guard’s, which said the nation “failed to provide diplomatic clearance to a US Coast Guard ship for refuelling and provision in Honiara” on August 23.

“The United States is disappointed that the US Coast Guard ship was not able to make this planned stop in Honiara,” a US Embassy spokesman said yesterday, acknowledging they’d been informed of the ban. 

The spokesman said the country was “pleased” the US Navy ship Mercy was allowed to dock on Monday for a two-week humanitarian mission, together with personnel from Australia and Japan.

Royal Navy ship HMS Spey. (Solomon Islands government)

Regarding the British Royal Navy ship HMAS Spey, Sogavare said the approval process was “aborted” when he found out the ship was no longer seeking approval to enter the country.

The Royal Navy didn’t comment directly on the incident but told Al Jazeera in a statement that “Ships’ programs are under constant review, and it is routine practice for them to change”.

Sogavare said the delays showed the need for the government to “government to review and refine its approval requirements and procedures” and asked all partners to put naval visit or patrol plans on hold “revised national mechanism is in place”.

“These will universally apply to all visiting naval vessels,” the statement released by the government yesterday said.

The Australian and Solomon Islands prime ministers have met to discuss the rise of China in the region in the wake of a controversial security pact.
Anthony Albanese met with Sogavare earlier this year. (9News)

“Solomon Islands have had unfortunate experiences of foreign naval vessels entering the country’s waters during the course of the year without diplomatic clearance granted, hence would like to avoid such incidents from reoccurring,” Sogavare said.

China has been assertively trying to expand its presence and influence in the Pacific, and Sogavare alarmed some neighbours, the US and others after he signed a new security pact with China.

The pact has raised fears of a Chinese naval base being established within 2000 kilometres of Australia’s north-east coast. 

A Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands would put it not only on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand but also in close proximity to Guam, the U.S. territory that hosts major military bases.

Both the Solomon Islands and China have denied their pact will lead to a Chinese military foothold in the South Pacific.

Sogavare also raised eyebrows earlier in August when he skipped a memorial service marking the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a key battle in World War II in which American and other allied forces wrested control of the islands from Imperial Japan.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, whose father was wounded during the Guadalcanal campaign and who attended the memorial, said Sogavare “missed an important opportunity” by failing to attend.



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