Solomon Islands declares moratorium on naval visits pending protocol review
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Amid tensions triggered by the Solomon Islands' alleged refusal to allow a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to enter the capital, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has announced the suspension of naval visits to the nation pending a review of its entry clearance protocols.
"The 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 in a statement posted on the Solomon Islands government website.
Sogavare issued the statement in a bid to allay the uneasiness caused by the port call disruption after the USCG Cutter Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea on Aug. 20 when it failed to obtain entry permission from the Solomon Islands government.
The cutter, which is on patrol for illegal fishing in the South Pacific, sought to
to refuel in Honiara and participate in the Forum Fisheries Agency's Operation Island Chief in the Solomons' capital.
According to a press release from the government, Sogavare clarified the "misunderstanding" during a speech at a ceremony to welcome the visiting U.S. Navy Ship Mercy in Honiara on Aug. 30.
Sogavare said the Solomons' response to the Coast Guard's entry request was delayed because "the appropriate information" was not sent to his office on time.
The prime minister's office sought and received the required information on Aug. 20 and granted the approval on the same day.
“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.
A separate incident involved the British Royal Navy's HMS Spey, which also sought clearance to enter the waters of Solomons.
"The approval process to enter the Solomon Islands was aborted when the prime minister’s office received notification from the British High Commission in Honiara that they were no longer seeking approval for HMS Spey to enter the country," Sogavare said.
Sogavare said both incidents have prompted his government to review and refine its approval requirements and procedures for visiting military vessels to the Solomon Islands.
“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," the prime minister said.
"Once the new mechanism is in place, we will inform you all. We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier," he added.
The prime minister asked partner countries to pause any plans to conduct naval visits or patrols "until a revised national mechanism is in place. These will universally apply to all visiting naval vessels."
Earlier this year, the Solomon Islands drew criticism from its neighboring islands when it signed a security treaty with China. Sogavare sought to quash speculation that the agreement opened the gate for China to build a Navy base in the region.
"The Solomon Islands would like to see a partnership in place to build national capacity to police our exclusive economic zones," Sogavare said. "Once the process and procedures are in place suspension of naval vessel visits will be lifted.