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

Technology

Indonesia: Port Operation to Go Online in September

The Indonesian government is expected to start operation of a new online system at the country’s four major ports in September this year.   The operation of the long awaited Inaportnet system,

Interview: Nakilat's Samir Bailouni

SGMF Membership - Uncovered: An interview with Samir Bailouni, Nakilat The Society for Gas and Marine Fuel (SGMF) recently interviewed one of its members, Samir

First Deep Sea Exploration of the Perth Canyon Begins Today

The first deep-sea exploration of the Perth Canyon, Australia's largest undersea valley, will launch today, Phys.org is reporting. The 12-day expedition is backed

Offshore

Nabors Posts Quarterly Loss as Drilling Activity Slows

Offshore driller Nabors Industries Ltd reported a quarterly loss, hurt by lower drilling activity amid a slump in global crude prices.   The company posted a net loss of $891.

Maersk Drilling Secures Contract for Newest Drillship

Maersk Drilling was awarded a contract from eni Ghana Exploration and Production Ltd. for employment of the newbuild drillship Maersk Voyager.   The contract

Floater Orders 2014

25 Units Orders in 2014:  10 FPSOs, 1 Barge, 4 FLNGs, 7 FSRUs & 3 FSOs The overall number of orders is similar to the average ordering pace over the past 10 years,

Environmental

Green Groups Sue Port of Seattle

A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Port of Seattle over a leasing agreement to host Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling fleet, claiming the deal was negotiated

First Deep Sea Exploration of the Perth Canyon Begins Today

The first deep-sea exploration of the Perth Canyon, Australia's largest undersea valley, will launch today, Phys.org is reporting. The 12-day expedition is backed

Her Majesty The Queen to Name Britannia

Her Majesty The Queen, accompanied by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, will name the new P&O Cruises vessel Britannia in Southampton on March 10, 2015, P&O Cruises announced.

Barges

Crowley Ships Massive Electrical Equipment

Crowley Maritime Corporation’s liner services group recently transported two massive electrical equipment enclosures with a combined weight of 196,000 pounds to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Strip Club Barge Accused of Dumping Sewage into Harbor

Owners of floating Kodiak strip club indicted by Federal Grand Jury; Wild Alaskan operators accused of dumping raw sewage into Kodiak Harbor, Alaska   A federal

Conrad Shipyard Bags LNG Order

Energy infrastructure and LNG solutions provider WesPac Midstream and its subsidiary Clean Marine Energy (CME) have awarded a contract to Conrad Orange Shipyard

Offshore Energy

Nabors Posts Quarterly Loss as Drilling Activity Slows

Offshore driller Nabors Industries Ltd reported a quarterly loss, hurt by lower drilling activity amid a slump in global crude prices.   The company posted a net loss of $891.

Maersk Drilling Secures Contract for Newest Drillship

Maersk Drilling was awarded a contract from eni Ghana Exploration and Production Ltd. for employment of the newbuild drillship Maersk Voyager.   The contract

Floater Orders 2014

25 Units Orders in 2014:  10 FPSOs, 1 Barge, 4 FLNGs, 7 FSRUs & 3 FSOs The overall number of orders is similar to the average ordering pace over the past 10 years,

Subsea Salvage

Drowning at Castaway Cay

Police are investigating the apparent drowning of an American cruise ship passenger off at Disney’s private island in the Bahamas - Castaway Cay in the Abacos.

 
 
Maritime Standards Naval Architecture Offshore Oil Pipelines Pod Propulsion Port Authority Ship Electronics Ship Repair Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Winch
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: 5.3489 sec (0 req/sec)