CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Solomon Islands' government on Wednesday asked countries to not send naval vessels to the South Pacific nation until approval processes are overhauled.
The government made the request after the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry and British navy patrol boat HMS Spey cancelled planned port calls last week due to bureaucratic delays.
The United States and Britain are among countries concerned that a new bilateral security pact between Solomon Islands and China could lead to a Chinese naval base being constructed less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) off Australia’s northeast coast.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the Oliver Henry crew had failed to provide required information in time for his office to approve the visit. The Oliver Henry refueled at Papua New Guinea instead.
HMS Spey withdrew its application to visit, Sogavare said.
“The delay in these approvals demonstrate the need for the government to review and refine its approval requirements and procedures for visiting military vessels to Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said in a statement.
“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 added.
He said the new process would universally apply to all visiting military vessels.
The American and British ships has been taking part in Operation Island Chief, which monitors fishing in the region.
The Coast Guard said the Oliver Henry diverted to the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby after the Solomons’ government failed to respond to a request for diplomatic clearance to land in the country.
Britain’s Royal Navy did not comment directly on reports that HMS Spey was denied a port call in Solomon Islands.
Australian police have been maintaining peace in Solomon Islands under a bilateral security treaty since rioting in the capital Honiara late last year.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said whether military vessels were allowed to visit Solomon Islands was a question for the Solomons’ government.
“I’m confident that if we put in the work as a nation, we will be the partner of choice for Solomon Islands and we are putting in that work,” Marles told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Asked if he had sought clarification from the Solomons, Marles said there were “ongoing conversations” with Honiara.
The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is currently in Honiara.
Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press