Suva, Fiji – With the International Seabed Authority (ISA) granting Nauru Ocean Resources Incorporation (NORI), a Nauru registered exploration company, the right to explore for deep seabed minerals in the International Seabed Area (known as “the Area”), the country becomes the first Pacific Island nation to have secured such a licence.
With limited seabed mineral resources inside its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the licence gives NORI the right to explore an area beneath international waters, at estimated depths of 5000 metres.
NORI is owned by two Nauru foundations; the Nauru Health and Environment Foundation and the Nauru Education and Training Foundation. As a part of the licence application process, the ISA subjected the company to a rigorous screening of its history, financials and work practises.
Countries own the resources within their EEZs, the area of sea and ocean floor within 200 nautical miles as measured from a country’s shoreline, but the vast expanses of sea floor beyond countries’ EEZs is called the International Seabed Area, or simply, the Area.
The United Nations-created International Seabed Authority (ISA) administers the Area for the benefit of all nations, and is also responsible for the issuing of licences for exploration of mineral resources beneath international waters.
SPC/SOPAC’s Akuila Tawake, Team Leader of the European Union-funded four-year Deep Sea Minerals Project said, “Although the first licences are being granted for deep seabed mineral exploration in the Area, the ISA has yet to complete the regulations governing any future mining operations in the Area.
“The Deep Seabed Minerals Project, is drawing on the knowledge of Pacific Island Nations, and gathering information from scientific, environmental, legal and mining experts in developing the deep sea minerals regional framework, and the state of knowledge on marine minerals in the Pacific that are in the process of being established for use by the Pacific ACP Countries.”
Mr Robert Heydon, Vice-Chairman of NORI, said that Nauru is at the forefront of putting legislation in place, as well as taking precautionary measures to protect the environment.
He said that exploration of the Area’s mineral resources involves significant commercial risk, and while, “it is really good to have areas set aside for developing countries to utilise, there is little practical point if countries can not gain access to the technology and financial resources necessary to do the exploration and possible mining in the future.”
Until the mining begins, companies like NORI have their own exploration timeline to follow, that involves environmental studies as well as geophysical and geological surveys to map out the seafloor and pick up seabed samples to determine what sort of resources are present.
“Once we have determined the grade and abundance of mineral resources in NORI’s licence area as well as the seafloor characteristics, we can start designing trial mining equipment, which will be tested to ensure efficient operation at such depths,” said Mr Heydon.
According to Mr Heydon, “If everything goes to plan, mining could begin in five or six years time, but it won’t start until the ISA has regulations in place.
“At the end of the day, we can’t start mining for deep seabed minerals in the Area until the world is happy to commit to the ISA regulations.”
Robert Heydon, Vice Chairman of NORI.
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