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SPC: Emergence of Deep-Sea Mining in the Pacific Islands

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 December 2011 10:25 Written by News Release Tuesday, 20 December 2011 10:14 Guam News - Guam News

Suva, Fiji - “With a project as significant and exciting as this, we expect that there will be misunderstandings and misinformation, especially through those using the media.

“But we also know that it is important that any confusion related to this project must be addressed to ensure clarity and transparency in all aspects of the work.”

So said Akuila Tawake, Deep Sea Minerals Project Team Leader of this European Union (EU) funded project.

Mr. Tawake explained that the Deep Sea Minerals Project is administered by SOPAC, a division of SPC, and is developing a regional legislative and regulatory framework for deep-sea mineral mining.


[Akuila Tawake]

“This will help ensure that sustainable resource management will bring tangible benefits to Pacific Island Countries and their people, “ said Mr. Tawake,

Mr. Tawake was responding to a story that appeared on Pac News that questioned the motives of those involved with the project.

In the story it stated, “that the Deep Sea Minerals Project of the SPC (SOPAC) disenfranchises indigenous people and promotes the interest of big mining companies at the expense of local communities.”

“Since the Project was conceived as a result of a number of Pacific Islands Countries requesting the SOPAC Division for advisory assistance and technical support relating to seabed minerals, it is difficult to understand who is being disenfranchised.” said Mr Tawake.

He said that the Deep Sea Mineral Project is not only being supported by the SPC member countries, but by the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, as well as the EU.

The overall objective of the project, he said, is to expand the economic resource base of Pacific ACP States by developing a viable and sustainable deep-sea marine minerals industry.

He said the specific objective is to strengthen the system of governance and capacity of Pacific ACP States in the management of deep-sea minerals.

“This can only be achieved through the development and implementation of sound and regionally integrated legal frameworks, improved human and technical capacity and effective environmental monitoring systems.”

Mr. Tawake said that to date there is only one potential deep-sea mining project in the Pacific region and that is scheduled to become operational in 2013.

It is the Solwara 1 project in the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea. The mining company, Nautilus Minerals has been working with the Papua New Guinea government since l997 to explore seafloor massive sulphide deposits with the option to develop those mineral resources if feasible.

“While the project is unique in the sense that it will become the world’s first deep seabed mine, the lease arrangements to develop and operate it are a reflection of the evolving legislative and regulatory process in Papua New Guinea since the 1970’s.

This will enable us to avoid past experiences on land from the OK Tedi and Bougainville Mines,” said Lyndah Brown-Kola, Senior Technical Assessment Engineer with the Papua New Guinea Mineral Resources Authority,

Mr. Tawake emphasised that the SPC/SOPAC as the implementing agency of the Deep Sea Mineral Project is only responsible for providing relevant information and appropriate assistance and advice to participating countries.

“Each participating country as a sovereign nation makes its own decisions after reviewing the advice we provide as well as information from other sources.”

Mr. Tawake said that the Papua New Guinea government has taken 14 years to make the decision to allow Nautilus Minerals to develop the mine. It is expected to be operational in late 2013.

“The financial risk of even exploration is entirely that of the mining companies and the costs are substantial, far in excess of US$50 million. In addition to the costs, government approval as well as physically developing a mine will take many years - it has taken Nautilus 14 years.”

“In addition to the regional framework, the Deep Sea Mineral Project requires the four years to develop with the participating countries, national legislative and regulatory frameworks for deep-sea mineral mining that encompass environmental concerns, and assist and support capacity building and environmental monitoring initiatives,” he said.

Mr. Tawake said that SPC/ SOPAC is grateful for those who have expressed their concerns about deep-sea mining and “we invite them to contact us for any information they require to help clarify any issues relating to deep sea mining in the Pacific region.”

The Deep Sea Minerals Project is currently being implemented in the following fifteen island countries: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, East Timor, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

For further information please contact akuila@sopac.org

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