The government of the Solomon Islands issued a temporary moratorium on Tuesday blocking all nations from docking their naval ships on the island, one day after the United States reported that its ships had been refused permission to dock.
“On August 29, the United States received formal notification from the government of Solomon Islands regarding a moratorium on all naval visits, pending updates in protocol procedures,” the U.S. embassy in Canberra announced on Tuesday.
The Solomon Islands’ announcement comes four days after the government refused to allow a U.S. Coast Guard ship to dock and refuel at the port of Honiara, the island’s capital. After the vessel was refused entry onto the island, it traveled instead to Papua New Guinea.
In a statement addressing the incident, Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare claimed that the island had experienced a delay in processing the ship’s approval, and by the time it was cleared to dock, it had already left for Papua New Guinea. Sogavare claimed that the delay had come about after his office had not received several pieces of relevant information, and argued that the temporary moratorium would allow for the government to establish firm procedures on docking.
“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 said. “Once the new mechanism is in place, we will inform you all. We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier.”
Despite the ban, the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship operated by the Navy, docked in Honiara on Monday for two weeks. The Canberra embassy’s statement indicated that it had received clearance to enter the port prior to the moratorium’s effect, and vowed to “continue to closely monitor the situation.”
The Solomon Islands, a small island chain to the east of Indonesia and the northeast of Australia, has become the subject of greater international attention in 2022 following the signing of a security agreement with China. The proposed agreement, in which Chinese police would help to train the island’s security forces, led to concern in Australia and the United States that China could use the islands as a naval base between Australia and U.S. naval bases throughout the Pacific. However, both Beijing and Honiara have denied that the agreement would allow for a permanent Chinese naval presence on the island.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.
Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy.