US coastguard vessel unable to refuel in Solomon Islands: Official

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – A United States Coast Guard vessel was unable to enter Solomon Islands for a routine port call because the Solomon Islands government did not respond to a request for it to refuel and provision, a US official said.

The islands’ government did not immediately answer a Reuters request for comment.

The Solomon Islands has had a tense relationship with the United States and its allies since striking a security pact with China in May.

The USCGC Oliver Henry was on patrol for illegal fishing in the South Pacific for a regional fisheries agency when it failed to obtain entry to refuel at Honiara, the Solomons’ capital, a US Coast Guard press officer told Reuters in an emailed statement.

The US vessel was diverted to Papua New Guinea instead, the official said.

The British navy declined to comment on social media reports that patrol vessel HMS Spey, also taking part in Operation Island Chief to monitor for illegal fishing in the economic exclusion zones of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, was declined port access by the Solomon Islands.

“Ships’ programmes are under constant review, and it is routine practice for them to change. For reasons of operational security we do not discuss details,” a Royal Navy spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The Solomons’ government and Beijing have ruled out a Chinese military base on the islands, although a leaked draft showed the security agreement would allow the Chinese navy to dock and replenish.

The fisheries agency for the Pacific Islands Forum, a block of 17 Pacific nations, has a maritime surveillance centre in Honiara, and holds annual surveillance operations for illegal fishing with assistance from Australia, United States, New Zealand and France.

The USCGC Oliver Henry was scheduled for a routine logistics port call in the Solomon Islands, Ms Kristin Kam, public affairs officer for the US Coast Guard in Hawaii told Reuters in an emailed statement.

“The Government of the Solomon Islands did not respond to the US Government’s request for diplomatic clearance for the vessel to refuel and provision in Honiara,” she said.

“The US Department of State is in contact with the Government of the Solomon Islands and expect all future clearances will be provided to US ships,” she added.

HMS Spey had Fiji navy officers on board as it worked alongside long-range maritime patrol aircraft from Australia and New Zealand and the US Coast Guard in the operation to gather information for the Pacific Islands Forum fisheries agency, the Royal Navy said in a statement on Thursday.

It carried out inspections of suspect vessels in ports as well as boardings at sea, the statement said.

The Royal Navy spokesman said it “looks forward to visiting the Solomon Islands at a later date”.