When Will Deep Sea Mining Commence? The Robot is Ready

Posted by Greg Trauthwein
Friday, April 18, 2014
copyright Nautilus Minerals
The world's first deep sea mining robot sits idle on a British factory floor, waiting to claw up high grade copper and gold from the seabed off Papua New Guinea (PNG) - when a wrangle over terms is solved.
 
Beyond PNG, in international waters, regulation and royalty terms for mining the planet's subsea wealth have also yet to be finalised. The world waits for the judgement of a United Nations agency based in Jamaica.
 
"If we can take care of the environment we have a brand new day ahead of us. The marine area beyond national jurisdiction is 50 percent of the Ocean," said Nii Odunton, secretary general of the U.N.'s International Seabed Authority (ISA).
 
"I believe the grades look good, the abundance looks good, I believe that money will be made," Odunton said from the ISA offices in Kingston.
 
High-tech advances, depleted easy-to-reach minerals onshore and historically high prices have boosted the idea of mining offshore, where metals can be fifteen times the quality of land deposits.
 
In Newcastle, the "beasty", as engineer Keith Franklin calls his machine, lies in wait, resembling a submersible tank with four metre wide cutting blades.
 
Built by Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), it will put Canadian listed Nautilus Minerals on course to become the first company to commercially mine in deep water.
 
Nautilus' primary resource, Solwara 1, about 1,500 metres underwater, is a Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposit, which forms along hydrothermal vents where mineral-rich fluids spurt from cracks in the ocean crust.
 
Equipped with cameras and 3D sonar sensors the robot is driven by two pilots from a control room on the vessel above, attached via a giant power cable.
 
"The cameras aren't enough by themselves because the machine will be working by vents where black soot spurts from the ocean crust and it will sometimes be near impossible to see anything," said Stef Kapusniak, business development manager for mining at SMD. "The 3D sonar will allow it to make images and send it back to the control room."
 
The machine then cuts up the sea floor and sucks the rocks through a pipe to deposit it in mounds behind - "like icing a cake," Kapusniak said. Another machine, yet to be built, will then help suck the ore to the surface.
 
Nautilus aims to produce 80,000-100,000 tonnes of copper and 100,000-200,000 ounces of gold - equivalent to a modest onshore mine. It was supposed to be producing by now, but disagreements with the PNG government over financial terms have set it back.
 
Chief Executive Mike Johnston told Reuters he was confident a resolution would be sorted out and the company would be mining within two to three years.
 
Most of the world's best deposits lie even deeper than Nautilus' Solwara 1, at around 6,000 metres in an area known as the Clarion Clipperton Zone.
 
Large numbers of manganese nodules - potato sized rocks rich in copper, cobalt and nickel - lie across this 4.5 million square kilometre abyssal plain between Hawaii and Mexico.
 
 
LICENSES ALREADY AWARDED
 
The U.N.'s ISA is drawing up a code to deal with some environmental concerns and the commercial terms for deep-sea mining. It predicts it will be finished in around two or three years, with mining still 5-10 years away.
 
"It's only after the code is in place and people are happy with it that the huge investments needed to start deep-sea mining will occur," ISA's Odunton, a Ghanaian, said.
 
ISA is, however, already doling out exploration licenses - 19 have been approved. Odunton said interest in them had "catapulted" in the past five years.
 
In order to get a licence through ISA an applicant must be sponsored or partnered with a country. For nations like Japan which lack their own resource wealth, deep-sea mining is a potential way to secure mineral supply for the future.
 
China, the world's largest metals consumers, is also one of the most active in exploring the area.
 
Britain has an exploration licence in partnership with UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of defence firm Lockheed Martin .
 
"These are the days you have to take a position, especially as a government," said Martijn Schouten, managing director at IHC's mining division - an equipment maker which targets seabed mining as its next growth driver.
 
IHC is the leading partner in an European Union funded project called Blue Mining, begun in February, and will look at the business case and technology for deep-sea mining over the next four years.
 
This new frontier is an exciting prospect for developing island nations like Tonga and Nauru, which both have exploration licences. For Tonga, where Nautilus says it has been collecting encouraging exploration results, it could be a game changer.
 
"The revenue stream and taxes from a medium sized mine would have an enormous benefit to the country," Nautilus' Johnston said.
 
The main companies looking to mine the seabed, like Nautilus and UK Seabed Resources, are not, however, traditional mining firms, although Anglo American does have a 5 percent stake in the former.
 
IHC said most of its contracts were with technology-based companies that were not in the mining industry, although it would not specify further due to confidentiality clauses.
 
IHC said it has had discussions with oil majors who are beginning to show an interest in deep sea mining.
 
But, with little of the deep ocean mapped or explored, environmentalists worry about the potential loss of fauna and biospheres whose existence is not yet understood.
 
"Only 3 percent of the oceans are protected and less than 1 percent of the high seas, making them some of the least protected places on earth. The emerging threat of seabed mining is an urgent wake-up call," Greenpeace said in a report last year.
 
"I think we really have to be careful about what happens to the environment," said ISA's Odunton. "We don't know enough to take some of the risks we've taken on land."
 
(By Stephen Eisenhammer and Silvia Antonioli, Editing by William Hardy, Reuters)
  • copyright Nautilus Minerals

    copyright Nautilus Minerals

  • copyright Nautilus Minerals

    copyright Nautilus Minerals

Maritime Reporter January 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Technology

The 2nd Ballast Water Management Summit

Sign-up for this year’s most in-depth exchange of information and best venue for BWT stakeholders to network and meet regulatory peers is underway.   Infocast’s

InterMoor Completes Juniper Mooring Installation Contract

InterMoor has completed a mooring and foundation installation campaign for bpTT’s Juniper gas project offshore Trinidad and Tobago, reportedly the largest foundation

Gypsy Moth Clause Takes Balanced Approach to Risk

A new BIMCO clause provides a simple, practical and commercial solution focusing on the basic obligations and responsibilities of owners and charterers when dealing with the Asian Gypsy Moth (AGM).

Offshore

Panama Flag Approval for Seagull

Seagull Maritime has become the first overseas company to secure training centre approval from the Panama Maritime Authority following the PMA’s 2014 change of leadership.

New Chemical Handling Service from Ferguson Group

Tank, Fluid Solutions and Bunded Storage for Dangerous Goods and Chemicals Introduced at Gap Ridge, Karratha.    Ferguson Group Australia, global specialist in offshore DNV 2.

InterMoor Completes Juniper Mooring Installation Contract

InterMoor has completed a mooring and foundation installation campaign for bpTT’s Juniper gas project offshore Trinidad and Tobago, reportedly the largest foundation

Environmental

Investment Impact in Inland Waterways System

The National Waterways Foundation (NWF) has commissioned and released a two-year, ground-breaking study by the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky,

The 2nd Ballast Water Management Summit

Sign-up for this year’s most in-depth exchange of information and best venue for BWT stakeholders to network and meet regulatory peers is underway.   Infocast’s

Britain to Ban Fracking in National Parks

Britain said on Monday it would ban fracking in national parks, reversing a policy announced last year, in a concession to the opposition Labour Party which had

Barges

Study Examines Impacts of Inland Waterway Investment

The National Waterways Foundation (NWF) has commissioned and released a two-year study to examine the U.S. inland waterways’ national economic return on investment

Webinar to Demonstrate Barge Emissions Tool

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and SmartWay will host a webinar for barge carriers and other interested stakeholders to demonstrate Barge Tool,

Former ‘Google Barge’ Sold

After concluding two 3,500HP tug sales on December 30, Marcon International Inc. has started 2015 with three ocean barge sales, and hopes to report on several additional

Offshore Energy

World's Largest Ship Sparks Outrage

Jewish groups in the Netherlands and Britain have reacted with rage and despair at the arrival in Rotterdam of the world's biggest ship, the Pieter Schelte, named

Hofste, Montijn Nominated to Supervisory Board Fugro

Fugro N.V. announces that the Supervisory Board of Fugro nominates Mrs. P.H.M. Hofsté and Mrs. A.H. Montijn for appointment as members of the Supervisory Board

Technip Certified to EDGE Standard

Technip and EDGE Certified Foundation announce today that Technip in Brazil, in France and in Italy, including flexible pipe manufacturing plants in Brazil and France and Group’s headquarters,

Subsea Salvage

ASA Mission Statement Revised to Expand Reach

The American Salvage Association has revised its mission statement to increase its area of influence beyond North America, complemented by a new logo that reflects the expanded direction.

US Naval Ship Aground off Japanese Coast

The U.S. Navy and Japanese authorities are working to refloat a Military Sealift Command vessel after it ran aground Thursday off the coast of Okinawa.   The Sgt.

Taiwan Naval Fleet Adds Home-Grown Vessel

Taiwanese Navy formally took delivery Friday of a new locally designed supply vessel that it said will help enhance Taiwan's maritime combat capabilities.   In

 
 
Maritime Contracts Naval Architecture Navigation Pipelines Pod Propulsion Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Repair Ship Simulators Sonar
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2368 sec (4 req/sec)