Solomon Islands announces a temporary moratorium on all naval visits after U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Henry was denied entry on Aug. 20. Photo courtesy of Solomon Islands Government.
Aug. 30 (BP) — Solomon Islands has issued a temporary moratorium on all naval ships after failing to grant access in a timely manner to a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and a British naval ship earlier this month.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, speaking Tuesday at a ceremony welcoming U.S. hospital ship USNS Mercy in Honiara, sought to clarify “misinformation” and blamed a paperwork issue for delaying the USCGC Oliver Henry on Aug. 20, before it diverted to Papua New Guinea.
“Unfortunately, by the time the approval was communicated on the evening of Aug. 20, the ship’s captain had decided to leave our waters,” Sogavare said in a statement.
British ship HMAS Spey‘s entry was also delayed, the BBC reported.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the delayed entries will require the government to stop all access temporarily to “review and refine its approval requirements.”
“To this end we have requested our partners give us time to review and put in place our new processes before sending further requests for military vessels to enter the country,” Sogavare said in a statement, according to USNI. “We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier.”
“The government has asked all partner countries with plans to conduct naval visits or patrols to put them on hold until a revised national mechanism is in place,” according to a Solomon Islands government statement. “These will universally apply to all visiting naval vessels.”
“We’re disappointed in this decision,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday. “While the lack of diplomatic clearance for the Oliver Henry was regrettable, however, the United States is pleased that the U.S. Navy ship Mercy — it’s a hospital ship — received diplomatic clearance and was able to take port in Solomon Islands on the 29th.”
Mercy is exempt from the moratorium and is expected to remain in Solomon Islands for several weeks as part of Pacific Partnership 2022.
The delayed entry has added to concerns, among U.S. allies and other Pacific Islands, over the possibility of China gaining a military foothold in the South Pacific after Honiara signed a security pact with Beijing in April.
In response, the United States reopened its embassy on the island for the first time in 29 years.