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High profile Indian NGO joins world counterparts, protests Govt of India, others' "deep interest" in seabed mining

By Our Representative
Mines, Minerals and People (MM&P), a high-profile non-government organization in India, has joined Greenpeace as also NGOs from Australia and Canada to declare that deep-sea mining is coming up as “the newest assault on the world’s oceans”. In a statement, Sreedhar Ramamurthi, chairperson, MM&P, India, has said, “The issue of deep sea mining is not just for scientists and mining companies, the debate has to be much bigger. Is it morally viable? Is it environmentally sustainable? What is going to happen to the waste? What are the economic, social and cultural impacts on local populations in the areas they want to mine? They are the same questions whether you are mining in the deep sea or on land.”
Calling for “an international moratorium on deep seabed mining in light of the International Seabed Authority's (ISA) issuing of seven exploration licenses for deep seabed mining in international waters”, Natalie Lowrey, spokesperson, Deep Sea Mining Campaign, Australia, said: “The granting of these licenses flies in the face of the precautionary principle. There is insufficient scientific data to understand the impacts of deep sea mining, there are no regulatory frameworks in place to govern mining operations and the capacity to enforce such frameworks does not yet exist. The issuing of exploration licenses must cease until these issues are addressed.”
The seven new exploration licenses that have been granted are: the UK’s Seabed Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest defense company; the Government of India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences; the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources; Brazil's Companhia de Pesquisa de Recursos Minerias; Ocean Mineral Singapore; Germany Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources; and Cook Islands Investment Corporation.
“This brings the total of deep seabed mining exploration licenses granted by the ISA to 17. Twelve of these contracts are for exploration for polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (Pacific Ocean) and Central Indian Ocean Basin. Three are for exploration for polymetallic sulphides in the South West Indian Ridge, Central Indian Ridge and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. And, two contracts are for exploration-rich crusts in the Western Pacific Ocean”, the MM&P statement said, adding, “Currently the exploitation of resources, including the proposed exploitation of our deep seas, is dominated by politics and economics over environmental and social concerns.”
Charles Roche, executive director, Mineral Policy Institute in Australia, said, “Deep sea mining remains a highly speculative venture, undermined by a lack of understanding about both the questionable need for additional sources of metals and minerals as well as the potential impacts of underwater mining.” He added, “Nation-states who have a strong involvement in the exploration and potential exploitation of our seabeds should also play a strong role in the development of greater marine protection.”
Catherine Coumans, Research coordinator, Mining Watch Canada said, “Organizations are also calling for a move to a circular economy where the emphasis is on resource efficiency, urban mining, long term product lives and strong repair, reuse and recycling policies. It is imperative that we have an understanding about impacts before exploration or exploitation of deep sea mineral resources is permitted. That is why we are calling for an international moratorium on all deep seabed mining until marine park areas are established to protect deep sea ecosystems and risks are assessed and analyzed.”
An official document approving deep sea mining said, the Government of India application was for deep sea mining in the Central Indian Ocean and forms part of the Indian Ocean ridge. “It consists of 100 blocks measuring approximately 10 km by 10 km each, but not exceeding 100 square kilometers. The blocks are grouped into five clusters, each containing from 15 to 30 blocks. The application area is confined within a rectangular area not exceeding 300,000 sq km in size and where the longest side does not exceed 1,000 km”, the document pointed out. The area chosen for deep sea mining by India is “off Andhra Pradesh and Odisha sea coast”, a senior activist added.
Pointing out that “the application area is in the international seabed area”, the document claimed, “The applicant stated that the proposed exploration activities were unlikely to create any serious disturbance on the seafloor and on the water column immediately above the seafloor. Those activities were classified as activities not requiring an environmental impact assessment. However, applying a precautionary approach, the applicant would undertake a programme of oceanographic and environmental baseline studies over the three five-year phases of the plan of work, in order to assess any local disturbance that may be caused by sampling.”
The approval to deep sea mining has reportedly come after the United Nations published its first plan for deep sea mining. The plan is being touted by the ISA's legal counsel Michael Lodge as "the threshold of a new era of deep seabed mining", as the “new frontier for the resources industry.” Supporters of deep sea mining say, while the economic costs seem “prohibitive”, there are rich pickings to found on the seabed. The minerals are characteristically found near hydrothermal vents which form above cracks in the ocean floor, typically in volcanic areas of the seabed.
“They are created when water seeps into the bowels of the earth, dissolving the minerals found under the crust which is then spewed forth once more into the ocean, bringing it with the metal rich fluids. This creates massive plumes of debris that shoots upwards and then falls back to the ocean floor; gradually building up the vents, layer up layer, until they reach a height where they eventually collapse on themselves, creating the mineral rich and often high grade, sulphide deposits over the shell of the vent”, it is suggested.
Already, top international NGO Greenpeace has vehemently opposed seabed mining, releasing a report last year in an effort to raise awareness. In its 20 page report, it stated that seabed mining "poses a major threat to our oceans", adding that "all types of seabed mining will kill whatever can't escape the mineral extraction operations". It also highlighted the risk for accidents if an ore barge were to sink, as well as the potential of oil or hydraulic fluid leak from machinery on the seafloor.

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