bangkok — A US Coast Guard cutter patrolling as part of an international campaign to curb illegal fishing was recently unable to get clearance for a scheduled port call in the Solomon Islands, according to reports, an incident that comes amid 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 closed Friday, when it attempted to make a scheduled stop at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, to refuel and resupply, Coast Guard Lt. Kristin Kam told the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
There was no response from the government of the Solomon Islands for diplomatic clearance to land the ship, however, Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea, Kam said.
She declined to specify when the incident occurred, and the Coast Guard did not immediately respond to an email or call from The Associated Press for comment.
In a statement, however, the Coast Guard said the Oliver Henry was in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Tuesday “on patrol in 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 has been aggressively seeking to expand its presence and influence in the Pacific, and earlier this year raised alarm bells with the US and its allies after Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogawre announced the signing of 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 call.
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.”
Coast Guard officials told Stars and Stripes that the U.S. 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 U.S. vessels.”
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.