Report: US Coast Guard Ship Denied Port of Call in Solomons

BANGKOK — A U.S. Coast Guard cutter conducting patrols as part of an international mission to prevent illegal fishing was recently denied clearance for a planned port call in the Solomon Islands, according to reports, an incident sparking growing concern over China’s influence on the Pacific nation. .

The cutter Oliver Henry took part in Operation Island Chief, which monitored fishing activities in the Pacific, which came to a close on Friday when it planned to make a scheduled stop at Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, for refueling and resupply. , Coast Guard Lt. Kristin Kam told the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

However, there was no response from the Solomon Islands government for diplomatic clearance to land the ship, so the Oliver Henry fled to Papua New Guinea, Kam said.

She declined to specify when the incident took place, and the Coast Guard did not immediately respond to emails or calls from The Associated Press for comment.

However, in a statement, the Coast Guard said the Oliver Henry had arrived in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Tuesday, “after patrolling parts of the Coral Sea and the Solomon Islands”.

The British Royal Navy did not immediately comment on reports that HMS Spey, which also participated in Operation Island Chief, was also denied a call to the Solomon Islands.

“Ships’ schedules are under constant review and it is routine to change them,” the Royal Navy said in an emailed statement.

“We will not discuss details for operational security reasons. The Royal Navy looks forward to visiting the Solomon Islands at a later date.”

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During Operation Island Chief, the US, Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand provided air and surface surveillance support for Pacific islands participating in the operation, including the Solomon Islands.

China has assertively sought to expand its presence and influence in the Pacific, and the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, raised alarm bells with the US and its allies earlier this year after announcing a new security pact with China. had signed.

The pact has raised fears that a Chinese naval base will be established within 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of Australia’s northeast coast. A Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands would place it not only on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand, but also in close proximity to Guam, the US territory with major military bases.

Both the Solomon Islands and China have denied that 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 to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a major World War II battle in which American and other Allied forces pushed back control of the islands from Imperial Japan.

US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, whose father was injured during the Guadalcanal campaign and who attended the memorial, said Sogavare “missed an important opportunity” by not attending.

US Senator Marsha Blackburn met with Sogavare in the Solomon Islands on Wednesday, but it was not clear whether she raised the issue of the Coast Guard’s denied port call.

The Tennessee Republican said in a statement on her website that her visit to the Solomon Islands, as well as Fiji and Papua New Guinea, was “an important step in demonstrating America’s commitment to the region and expanding our strategic relationships.”

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Kam of the Coast Guard told Stars and Stripes that the US State Department had been in contact with the government of the Solomon Islands following the denial of the port call and that they “expect all future permissions to be issued to US ships.”


Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

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