‘Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has claimed that the US Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Henry and British navy ship HMAS Spey were never denied entry contrary to overseas media reports.
However at the same time a moratorium has been placed on all visiting naval ships until the Solomon Islands improve their approval process.
The news of USGC being turned away put the Solomon Islands in the spotlight again and emphasis was once again put on the relationship the nation has with China and the notion that the superpower had plans for a military base in the Pacific.
Mr Sogavare’s absence at the 80th anniversary of Guadalcanal War has not helped either. On Tuesday, Mr Sogavare said by the time the approval was granted to USGC, the ship’s captain had turned the vessel around.
Speaking at a ceremony to welcome the visiting United States Hospital Ship USNS Mercy in Honiara, Mr Sogavare said there had been a delay in the granting of approval for entry into the country primarily due to the appropriate information not being sent to the Office of the Prime Minister on time.
He said the Prime Minister’s Office received the required information on August 20, 2022 and it was evening when approval was granted and communicated to USGC Oliver Henry, by which time the ship was bound for Papua New Guinea.
In relation to the HMAS Spey, Mr Sogavare clarified 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 HMAS Spey to enter the country.
Mr Sogavare said the delay in the approval process demonstrated the need for the government to review and refine its approval requirements and procedures for visiting military vessels to the Solomon Islands.
He said until the new smoother process was in place, all diplomatic partners had been requested to allow the Solomon Islands some time.
All partner countries have also been asked to put on hold all naval visits or patrols until that time.
Mr Sogavare said they have had unfortunate experiences of foreign naval vessels entering the country’s waters without diplomatic clearance granted and they would like to avoid such incidents from reoccurring.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands conveyed its appreciation to US Navy Hospital Ship Mercy which arrived on Tuesday evening.
There were fears expressed that the USNS Mercy would also be told to divert elsewhere. The 1000 bed hospital is on a visit of Pacific island nations under the Pacific Partnership program to provide medical and surgical care.
“It is a fitting demonstration of our strengthening cooperation with the visit coming shortly after the commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal earlier this month,” Mr Sogavare said on Tuesday evening.
He suggested that the USNS should visit the Pacific on an annual basis and urged the US Government to have the ship berthed in Honiara during the Pacific Games next year.
US allies treated as “hostile nations” – 29 August 2022
Concerns have been raised by the Solomon Islands opposition leader that the government could stop the entry of the United States hospital ship USNS Mercy.
Matthew Wale’s comments comes after reports that the Solomon Islands Government did not allow US Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry to berth and refuel and as a result the naval vessel had to divert to Papua New Guinea.
Mr Wale said he hopes the government will not do the same to the USNS Mercy.
“For the sake of our sick patients requiring specialist treatment, I am urging the Prime Minister to allow the floating hospital to enter our country,” he said in a statement.
Mr Wale was also quick to point out the Solomon Islands Government’s foreign policy ‘friends to all, enemies to none’ was hypocritical.
“Friends to all, enemies to none is clearly a joke, the Prime Minister clearly treats US and its allies as hostile nations. All our friends must be treated equally,” he said.
Mr Wale has claimed he was aware that the advice came from the Prime Minister’s office.
“This is yet another piece of advice which reflects the Prime Minister’s apparent dislike for the US and its allies,” he said.
The USCGC Oliver Henry was on patrol for illegal fishing in the Pacific and its call at the Honiara Port had been part of the deal.
“Why is the Prime Minister so anti US and its allies? There is no rational explanation nor in our national interest to justify this treatment of the US and its allies. It is clear the Prime Minister is pro-China but there is no need to be hostile or adversarial to other democracies,” Mr Wale said.
Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister remain unanswered about the USGC Oliver Henry.
Solomon Islands so called anti-US behaviour was first noticed when prime minister Manasseh Sogavare did not attend the 80th anniversary of the Gaudalcanal War where US and Japanese delegates had come.
However, Mr Sogavare later refuted that it was a snub. US deputy secretary of State Wendy Sherman described this as a missed opportunity to dialogue.