Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare has announced a temporary moratorium on visits by foreign naval vessels after turning away a U.S Coast Guard Cutter last week.
Speaking at a ceremony welcoming hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) to Honiara, Sogavare said that bureaucratic issues were behind the denial of diplomatic clearance to USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140).
“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 in statement.
The port call was routine, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby during a press conference Tuesday. Oliver Henry planned to stop at Solomon Island to refuel and resupply, but after the U.S. did not receive diplomatic clearance in time, the ship diverted to Papua New Guinea.
“We’re disappointed in this decision,” Kirby said during the briefing. “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.”
While Solomon Islands took time to review its diplomatic clearance process, foreign partners had been asked to postpone upcoming naval visits until further notice, he said.
“To this end we have requested our partners to 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. “Once the new mechanism is in place, we will inform you all. We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier.”
In a Tuesday statement, Solomon Islands government said that the new rules would apply to all visiting naval vessels.
“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 government statement “These will universally apply to all visiting naval vessels.”
U.S. hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) has been exempted from the moratorium and is expected to remain in Solomon Islands for several weeks as part of Pacific Partnership 2022.