Pacific Countries Urged to Be Cautious Over Seabed Mineral Exploration

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Suva, Fiji – With interest in the region for seabed mineral exploration intensifying, Dr. Russell Howorth, Director SPC/SOPAC Division has sounded a cautionary note during his opening remarks at the International Workshop on Environmental Management Needs for Exploration and Exploitation of Deep Seabed Minerals now taking place in Nadi from November 29 through December 2.

He noted that this interest was not only within the sovereign 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Pacific Island countries, but also within international waters.

The workshop is being jointly organised by SOPAC, a division of SPC and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to focus attention on seabed mineral exploration and to establish environmental needs in developing deep-sea mining strategies.

ISA has been mandated with signatories of 162 countries to manage the mineral resources of the international seabed beyond areas under national jurisdiction.

[(l-r)  Fiji’s Mininster for Works, Transport and Public Utilities, Colonel Timoci Lesi Natuva, Dr. Russell Howorth, Mr. Nii Allotey Odunton]

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The importance of the workshop was highlighted with the presence of Mr. Nii Allotey Odunton, Secretary General of the International Seabed Authority who was accorded Fijian welcome ceremonies at the beginning of the proceedings.

Dr. Howorth said in relation to this economic opportunity for Pacific Island countries, “we should move forward with a precautionary approach to ensure that the interest of our people and future generations have an environment that is protected.”

The Secretary General, in his remarks, said that the ISA had already taken steps to augment the international community’s knowledge base in order to facilitate adequate protection from mining, reinforcing Mr. Howorth’s words.

Mr. Odunton expects the Authority to begin work on drafting an Exploitation Code to include the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment next year.

Dr. Howorth said that recent developments emphasize the importance of addressing environmental issues including, but not limited to, the establishment of marine protected areas where no mining would be permitted.

He said issuance of a mining lease to Nautilus Minerals in Papua New Guinea in January this year is expected to result in the world’s first deep sea mining venture in 2013 as an indication of the emerging reality of this new economic development in the Pacific region.

Furthermore the ISA Council in July of this year approved plans of work for exploration in the International Seabed Area (‘the Area”) to two companies that are being sponsored by Nauru and Tonga.

Nauru Ocean Resources Incorporation (NORI) in Nauru and Tonga Offshore Mining Limited (TOML) in Tonga, are those sponsored.  

Fiji’s Minister for Works, Transport and Public Utilities, Colonel Timoci Lesi Natuva told participants that Fiji has recently issued exploration licenses for work in its EEZ to two foreign companies:  Nautilus Minerals and the Korea Ocean Resources Development Institute (KORDI).

And he reminded delegates of the words of the late Tongan novelist and poet Epeli Hau’ofa “that Oceania is a sea of islands as opposed to islands in a far sea, “with a wealth of ocean resources binding us together and giving us the potential to prosper economically in a holistic manner.”

Dr. Howorth said he was sure “we will hear during this workshop that other Pacific island countries have expressed their interest in submitting applications to the ISA for exploration licenses in international waters, as well as moving forward within their EEZs.

“Therefore it is vital that Pacific island countries work towards developing their national legal frameworks to regulate emerging new economic deep seabed mineral exploration and exploitation.”