India Secures Seabed Mining Rights


By MarEx 2016-09-26 20:21:33

The International Seabed Authority and the Government of India have signed a 15-year exploration contract for polymetallic sulfides.

The contract was signed on Monday in New Delhi, India by the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, Nii Allotey Odunton and Dr M Rajeevan, Secretary of India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences. 

The contract signing formalizes India’s exclusive rights for exploration of polymetallic sulfides in the allotted area in the Central Indian Ridge and South West Indian Ridge in the Indian Ocean. 

The application area, located in the central Indian Ocean, covers 10,000 square kilometers (3,800 square miles) and is grouped into five clusters, each containing 15 to 30 blocks. The application area is confined within a rectangular area not exceeding 300,000 square kilometers in size and where the longest side does not exceed 1,000 kilometers in length.

The Ministry says it will enhance India’s presence in the Indian Ocean where other players like China, Korea and Germany are active.

Sulfides containing iron, copper, zinc, silver, gold and platinum are precipitates of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from deep interior of the oceanic crust discharged through mineralized chimneys. They have attracted worldwide attention for their long term commercial as well as strategic values. 

The International Seabed Authority, which has its headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, was founded in November 1994. It is an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Authority has been entrusted with the implementation of the “common heritage of mankind” which applies to mineral resources beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. This upholds a vision of sustainable development of mineral resources in the international seabed area and the sharing of benefits and responsibilities for all States, including the land-locked and geographically disadvantaged States.

Ready for Commercialization

The commercialization of marine minerals in areas beyond national jurisdictions is well within reach, said Odunton earlier this year. He said the Authority was embarking on the road to commercialization of marine minerals, and though there were still major obstacles to be overcome, the goals “are well within reach and are attainable in the foreseeable future”.

One of the challenges is proving that deep-seabed mining was feasible and could be achieved in an environmentally sustainable manner. Another challenge is the adoption of an exploitation code that is transparent and flexible enough to allow for adjustments to its environmental provisions for new information and advances in technology to be incorporated into it.

In November 2015, a contract for exploration for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts with the Companhia de Pesquisa de Recursos Minerais was signed in Brasil, and in March 2016, a second contract for exploration for polymetallic nodules was signed in New York with U.K. Seabed Resources. Also this year, a contract was signed for exploration for polymetallic nodules with the Cook Islands Investment Corporation. It is anticipated that a pending contract with China Minmetals Corporation will also be signed during 2016.

Mineral Formation

The first discovery of polymetallic nodules occurred in 1873 during a voyage by HMS Challenger. The vessel dredged up “several peculiar black oval bodies which were composed of almost pure manganese oxide.” In 1965, J. L. Mero studied the economic possibilities of manganese nodules mining and predicted that the manganese nodule mining should be a sound business proposition in about 20 years.

Subsequently, it was discovered that the nodules cover vast areas of the ocean floor but are more abundant in areas off the west coast of Mexico, the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, in the Central Indian Ocean Basin and in the Peru basin. 

The nodules are composed mainly of manganese, iron, silicates and hydroxides. However, it is the trace metal contents such as nickel, copper, cobolt, molybdenum and rare earth elements that are attracting most interest. 

The nodules vary in size from micro-nodules to about 20 centimeters (eight inches), the most common size being two to eight centimeters (one to three inches). They occur abundantly as two dimensional deposits at the unconsolidated sediment-water interface and sometime as scantly buried in sediments. 

The deposits of economic importance occur mostly at four to six thousand meters depths in areas of extremely low sedimentation rate. Sediment accumulates at the rate of a couple of centimeters every 1,000 years, and the modules can take a million years to grow by a few millimeters. 

The nodules require a nucleus to start forming. This nucleus could be anything, varying from a piece of pumice, a shark tooth, old nodule piece, basalt debris or even microfossils like radiolaria and foraminifera.