BANGKOK (AP) — A U.S. Coast Guard cutter patrolling as part of an international campaign to crack down on illegal fishing recently failed to get clearance for a scheduled port call in the Solomon Islands, an incident sparked by growing concerns about Chinese influence in the Pacific. the nation
The cutter Oliver Henry was participating in Operation Island Chief monitoring fishing activities in the Pacific, which ended Friday, when it attempted to make a scheduled stop at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, to refuel and resupply, the Coast Guard office in Honolulu said. .
There was no response from the Solomon Islands government seeking diplomatic approval for the vessel to stop there, however, the Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea, the Coast Guard said.
It was not revealed when the stop in the Solomon Islands was planned, but the Coast Guard said the Oliver Henry was in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Tuesday “to patrol the Coral Sea and parts of the Solomon Islands”.
Britain’s Royal Navy also did not directly comment on reports that HMS Spey, which is taking part in Operation Island Chief, was denied a port call in the Solomon Islands.
“Ships’ programs are under constant review and it is routine practice to make changes to them,” the Royal Navy said in an emailed statement.
“We are not discussing the details due to operational security reasons. The Royal Navy looks forward to visiting the Solomon Islands at a later date.”
During Operation Island Chief, the US, Australia, Britain and New Zealand provided support through air and surface surveillance to Pacific island nations participating in the operation, including the Solomon Islands.
China is aggressively seeking to expand its presence and influence in the Pacific, and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware has warned some neighbors, the US and others after signing a new security pact with China.
The deal has raised fears of a Chinese naval base 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) off Australia’s northeast coast. The Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands is not only on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand, but also close to Guam, which has major military bases.
Both the Solomon Islands and China have denied Chinese military presence in the South Pacific due to their treaty.
Sogavre also raised eyebrows in early August when he skipped a memorial service marking the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a key World War II battle in which American and other allied forces wrested control of the islands from Imperial Japan.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, whose father was wounded during the Guadalcanal campaign and attended the memorial, said Sogavre “missed an important opportunity” by not attending.
US Sen. Marsha Blackburn met with Sogaware in the Solomon Islands on Wednesday but it was not clear whether she raised the issue of the Coast Guard’s denied port calls.
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, “demonstrates America’s commitment to the region and is an important step in expanding our strategic relationship.”
The Coast Guard said in a Honolulu statement that it respects the sovereignty of its foreign partners and looks forward to future engagement with the Solomon Islands.
Coast Guard Lt. Kristin Kamm told the Stars and Stripes newspaper that the US State Department is in contact with the Solomon Islands government after the port call was denied, and that they “expect all future clearances to be granted to American ships.”
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.