You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but this humble police patrol boat has seen a lot.
When the British assumed control over the Solomon Islands in 1889, they recruited a small force of local police under what later became known as the Solomon Islands Protectorate Armed Constabulary. Never a very large organization, it was equipped with a modicum of surplus Martini-Henry rifles and later Short-Magazine-Lee-Enfields. During WWII, the force assisted first the Royal Australian Navy’s Coastwatchers and later the U.S. Marines, with Constabulary Sgt. Maj. Jacob C. Vouza, a 25-year veteran of the force, pitching in with both and earning a silver star (presented to him personally by MG Alexander A. Vandegrift), a George Medal, and becoming a knight of the KBE.
Post-war, the constabulary became the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force and was requipped in the 1960s with SLRs (inch-pattern semi-auto-only FALs) and Sterling SMGs. After independence in 1978, the force was renamed the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
In 1983, the new country formed its de facto blue water navy/coast guard in the form of a single 82-foot GRP-hulled patrol boat, RSIPV Savo (02). Then, in 1988, came new Australian-built 103-foot Pacific Forum-class patrol boat RSIPV Lata (03) followed by her sistership, RSIPV Auki (04), in 1991. Mounting a pair of .50-cal Brownings to go along with a small arms locker, they carried a crew of 20, large enough to send a 6-10 man landing force ashore when needed. Alternatively, they could also transport a squad-sized element of the RSIPF’s Special Operations guys, should they be needed.
Lata and Auki were instrumental in cracking down for the first time on poaching vessels from Vietnam, China and elsewhere who were encroaching on the Solomon’s EEZ. Other missions, like destroying masses of encountered UXO and mines left over from WWII, tangling with pirates and rustling smugglers, were constant.
Then came the Solomons civil war in 1999 between the so-called Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), along with its allied Solomon Islands Field Force, and the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army, which boiled and simmered in the archipelago until international involvement in 2003. Lata had the unenviable record of being seized in June 2000 by the MEF, who sailed the patrol boat around Guadalcanal and turned her .50 cals on rival forces near the capital of Honiara.
Eventually, a multi-national force headed by Australia moved in and disarmed not only all of the rebel groups but the police as well.
Fast forward to this month and Lata, now aged 31, is being put to pasture. Her armament today is restricted to some Glocks and other small arms. Her crew this week lowered her white ensign and sailed her back to Australia for retirement.
She is being replaced by a new 130-foot Guardian-class patrol boat later this year under the Australian Regional Defence Cooperation Program while Auki will be replaced in 2023. A new, longer wharf is being created at the country’s Maritime Aola Base to operate the larger vessels.