31 May 2019
Vanuatu’s strategic importance in the past and now
Forty five years ago, as the British police commander, in the then New Hebrides Constabulary, I had the responsibility for the policing of the northern group of islands in the New Hebrides, including Luganville (where I was based), Aoba, Ambrym, Pentecost, Malekula and as far north as the Banks Islands.
At the time the New Hebrides was a joint Condominium and responsibilities of my command were shared with the French.
The Luganville port facility in those days was relatively small but kept busy and especially when the monthly supply vessel arrived from Australia bringing much needed items to fill the shelves at the main BP store in the town’s centre.
Today, the Luganville port is unrecognisable following a US$90 million wharf project development initiated by the Chinese.
Some debate has been raised about the future use of the base with hints at it being for foreign military use, but such speculation has been ridiculed as baseless by the government in Vanuatu.
In a new move, I read the other day that Vanuatu is looking at developing a port with Chinese help on Pentecost.
During WWII Luganville (or Santo as it was better known) was the site of one of the largest military bases in the Pacific. About 100,000 personnel were stationed there at its peak and probably 1 million service personnel passed through Santo until the base was decommissioned in 1946.
The New Hebrides had strategic importance during the war years and it still does because Vanuatu essentially controls air and sea traffic between the US and Australia.