CANBERRA, Australia -- Two Australian navy ships have been put on standby in case they are needed to evacuate Australian citizens from the South Pacific Island of Vanuatu, the site of a violent protest this week, a spokeswoman for Defense Minister Kim Beazley said Friday.
The supply ship HMAS Stalwart and destroyer tender, HMAS Jervis Bay, were scheduled to berth at Cairns on the north coast of Queensland Thursday night following exercises, but were told to drop anchor off the coast, the spokeswoman said.
The Foreign Affairs Department said Friday the situation in Vanuatu was calm and the defense spokeswoman said evacuation was unlikely.
'But it has been decided because of the situation in Vanuatu it is considered prudent to extend the training exercises for the ships,' she said. 'If it was necessary to evacuate Australian citizens, we would be able to respond quickly.'
The Vanuatu capital, Port Vila, was rocked by mob violence Monday when about 2,000 tribesman wreaked havoc in the main shopping center during a protest over land rights.
One rioter was killed when he fell under a truck, 10 others were injured and 20 tribesmen arrested during the disturbance. Australia and New Zealand have both sent riot control equipment to Port Vila by air force transport planes.
Vanuatu, about 500 miles east of Cairns, is a popular vacation resort for Australians and New Zealanders.