Wong responds to Solomon Islands ban on foreign vessels

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Australian foreign Minister Penny Wong said she looked forward to Australian ships continuing to visit the Solomon Islands amid an exemption from a ban on foreign vessels.

The Solomon Islands last week announced a moratorium on naval ships entering the nation’s ports but Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Monday removed Australian, New Zealand and Fijian military vessels from the ban, The Australian reported.

Senator Wong was asked about “where are we at with the ship blockade” with the Solomon Islands while speaking to reporters at Parliament House on Tuesday but took issue with the way the question was worded.

“Let’s be careful in our use of language. I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection,” she said.

“I think there has been an indication from Solomon Islands that obviously that they are making decisions about ship visits and we look forward to… Australian ships continuing to visit.

“And I understand from public reports that will continue.”

Sogavare said the exemption applied to naval vessels from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji deployed as part of the Solomon Islands International Assistance Force.

He said Honiara imposed the ban to review “the benefits and risks to Solomon Islands of any visits by any military vessels”

Sogavare’s office had been wanting more detail about vessels from countries including Australia and the United States that are involved in targeting illegal fishing.

But Sogavare said the ban was “not targeting the United States of America”.

The moratorium came just months after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with Beijing, which sparked fears China would establish a military base on Australia’s doorstop.

Sogavare is set to visit Australia in the coming weeks, as the Albanese Government continues to emphasise the nation’s place as the security partner of choice for Pacific nations.

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s visit. We welcome his assurance given to the Prime Minister, to me and publicly that Australia remains the security partner of choice,” Senator Wong said.

“We are of the view, Australia is of the view, that security is best provided by the Pacific family, of which we are a part,” he said.

SOURCE: SKY NEWS/PACNEWS