BANGKOK (AP) — A U.S. Coast Guard patrolling as part of an international mission to prevent illegal fishing was recently unable to secure clearance for a planned stopover in the Solomon Islands, according to news, an incident that comes amid growing concerns of Chinese influence on the Pacific nation.

Cutter Oliver Henry was taking part in Operation Island Chief monitoring fishing activity in the Pacific, which ended on Friday when he sought to make a planned stopover in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, to refuel and resupply, Coast Guard Lt Kristin Kam told the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

However, there was no response from the Solomon Islands government to get diplomatic clearance for the ship to land, so the Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea, Kam said.

She declined to say when the incident occurred, and the Coast Guard did not immediately respond to emails or calls from The Associated Press for comment.

In a statement, however, the Coast Guard said the Oliver Henry arrived in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Tuesday “after patrolling parts of the Coral Sea and the Solomon Islands”.

Britain’s Royal Navy has not commented directly on reports that HMS Spey, also taking part in Operation Island Chief, was also denied a stopover in the Solomon Islands.

“Ships’ programs are constantly under review, and it is common practice for them to change,” the Royal Navy said in an emailed statement.

“For operational security reasons, we do not discuss the details. The Royal Navy looks forward to visiting the Solomon Islands at a later date.

During Operation Island Chief, the United States, Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand provided support through aerial and surface surveillance for the Pacific island nations participating in the operation, including the Solomon Islands.

China has boldly attempted to expand its presence and influence in the Pacific, and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare sounded the alarm with the United States and its allies earlier this year after announced that it had signed a new security pact with China.

The pact has raised fears of establishing a Chinese naval base within 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of Australia’s northeast coast. A Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands would put it not only on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand, but also close to Guam, the US territory that hosts major military bases.

The Solomon Islands and China denied that their pact would lead to a Chinese military stance in the South Pacific.

Sogavare also raised eyebrows earlier in August when he skipped a memorial service marking the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a key World War II battle in which US and Allied forces regained control of the islands in Imperial Japan.

US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, whose father was injured during the Guadalcanal campaign and who attended the memorial, said Sogavare “missed an important opportunity” by not showing up.

US Senator Marsha Blackburn met with Sogavare in the Solomon Islands on Wednesday, but it was unclear whether she raised the issue of the stopover being denied by the Coast Guard.

The Tennessee Republican said in a statement posted on her website that her visit to the Solomon Islands as well as Fiji and Papua New Guinea “was an important step in showing America’s commitment to the region and expand our strategic relationships”.

Kam of the Coast Guard told Stars and Stripes that the US State Department had been in contact with the Solomon Islands government following the denial of the stopover and that they “expect all future clearances be supplied to American ships”.


Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.