Monthly Archives: May 2016

Zambian villagers allowed to take legal action against mining giant in UK

High Court judge allows 1,826 Zambian villagers to take legal action against mining giant Vedanta Resources Plc through the UK Courts


Leigh Day | 27 May 2016

A High Court judge has agreed that a legal claim against UK based mining giant Vedanta Resources Plc and its subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), on behalf of 1,826 Zambian villagers can proceed in the UK Courts.  

In his ruling, handed down today, Mr Justice Coulson granted jurisdiction over the claims, which involve allegations of serious environmental pollution, and rejected the Defendants’ arguments that the cases must be brought in Zambia.  

The judgment follows a hearing in April this year where the court heard arguments from the Defendants, Vedanta, one of the UK’s largest mining companies with an asset base of US$37 billion, and its Zambian subsidiary KCM, against the jurisdiction of the English courts to try the claims.  

Both UK-based Vedanta and Zambian KCM argued that the UK court had no jurisdiction to try the claims against them. Lawyers for the mining companies argued that the claims against both Defendants should be tried in Zambia because the Claimants are Zambian and the damage occurred in Zambia.  

However, Leigh Day, the lawyers for the claimants, argued that the cases should be tried by the English courts. They argued that under EU law the Claimants had a legal right to bring a claim against UK-based Vedanta. They also argued that Vedanta should bear equal legal responsibility, given its control over its mining subsidiary, the profit it makes from the mine and its alleged knowledge of the pollution.  

The Claimants’ lawyers further argued that KCM was a necessary and proper party to the claims and that there was a real risk that they would not achieve justice if the claims are not tried in the UK.  

Mr Justice Coulson rejected the arguments of both Defendants. He agreed that the Claimants had a legal right to bring their claim against the UK company Vedanta under EU law, upholding the EU case of Owusu and finding that it applied to group action claims.  

In his judgment Mr Justice Coulson also referred to the judgment in U & M Mining Zambia Ltd v Konkola Copper Mines PLC (2014) where the English court had previously found that KCM had repeatedly acted in a dishonest and unjustified manner.  

Mr Justice Coulson commented on the fact that KCM relied on evidence from a witness who had previously been found to be dishonest.  

Mr Justice Coulson also stated “KCM may not be able to honour their debts as they fall due” and therefore “a claim against the much wealthier parent company is justified on practical terms too” (paragraph 81 of the judgment).

In rejecting KCM’s application and allowing the claim against them to proceed in the UK courts, Mr Justice Coulson made a number of important findings. He found that the claims against KCM had a real prospect of success in part because “there have been, as a matter of record, discharges of toxic effluent from the mine into the relevant waterways” (paragraph 99(b) of the judgment) and because “there is no attempt, in the evidence served on behalf of KCM, to challenge the underlying basis of the claimants’ claim against KCM” (paragraph 99(d) of the judgment).

Mr Justice Coulson further found that KCM are a necessary or proper party to the claim against Vedanta and that England is the appropriate place to bring the claim.  

Mr Justice Coulson rejected the evidence submitted by KCM that the Claimants would be able to pursue their claims in Zambia, stating that, “if these claimants pursued KCM in Zambia, they would not obtain justice” (paragraph 177 of the judgment).  

The Judge noted that the Claimants are clearly very poor and cannot afford legal representation and there is no alternative method of funding available to them in Zambia including through legal aid. Furthermore, there is a clear lack of lawyers experienced in environmental group litigation in Zambia.  

Finally, Mr Justice Coulson found that the evidence suggested that these sorts of claims could not be properly litigated in Zambia due to the fact that the few cases that have been attempted have failed.  

Martyn Day, Senior Partner and the lawyer at Leigh Day representing the villagers, said:

“Given the fact that our clients continue to suffer on a daily basis as a result of what we claim is the continual pollution by the Defendants mining operations, we hope that the Defendants will now engage in meaningful discussions and try to resolve these claims so that our clients can rebuild their lives.”  


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Sea sponge the size of a minivan discovered in ocean depths off Hawaii

Sea sponge the size of a minivan discovered in ocean depths off Hawaii

Sea sponge the size of a minivan discovered in ocean depths off Hawaii – click on image to view video

  • Scientists find immense creature 2,100m below surface of the ocean
  • Researcher: ‘It’s probably in the order of centuries to millennia old’

Alan Yuhas | The Guardian

Deep sea scientists exploring the remote waters between Hawaii and Midway atoll have found a gigantic sea sponge “about the size of a minivan” that could be the oldest animal on earth.

“It’s probably on the order of centuries to millennia old,” lead researcher Daniel Wagner told the Guardian. The sponge, the largest on record, is “about 12ft wide and 7ft long” he said, “so about the size of a minivan”.

The creature was discovered about 2,100m (7,000ft) down, in a marine conservation area between north-western Hawaii and Midway. The area is largely unexplored, Wagner said, and “over 98% of the area of this monument is below 100m, so below something that we would ever be able to dive through with scuba diving”.

A remote-operated submersible found the sponge while exploring the depths of the Papahānaumokuākea marine park. Cast into the sub’s lights, the sponge’s brain-like folds appear in a pale, nearly white shade of blue.

Scientists described the animal this week, in the journal Marine Biodiversity.

Wagner said they could not be sure of the sponge’s age, since the animals lack growth rings found in corals that are similar to terrestrial trees.

A team of scientists on a deep-sea expedition discovered the sponge. Photograph: AP

A team of scientists on a deep-sea expedition discovered the sponge. Photograph: AP

“Corals in similar environments have made it for 4,000 years,” he said. Through measuring the rate of growth in sponges over decades, he added, “we also know that giant sponges in shallow waters can make it more than 2,000 years.”

Wagner also noted that most of the planet “lies in deep waters, the vast majority of which has never been explored”, and that “7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are found nowhere else on the planet” are known to live in Papahānaumokuākea marine park alone.

“This one expedition itself came back with over 100 new species,” he said, speaking of completely new species and life previously unknown to the region. “So there’s probably many, many other things down there.”

The “pristine” depths, Wagner said, included large communities of sponges and corals along with “a whole bunch of things that are associated with them: fish hiding in their crevasses, you got crinoids , barnacles, all kinds of things that grow on top of these sponges and corals. It’s really a very diverse community.”

Like the coral reefs they often grow alongside, sponges are “habitat forming” species, providing shelter, filtering sea water and removing material in the water that other animals do not eat. Sponges are ancient but primitive: they lack nervous or digestives system and rely on water flowing through their bodies to provide sustenance and clean them of waste.

Christopher Kelley, a biologist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hawaii undersea research lab, said the researchers used laser points to measure the dimensions of the bulbous animal, then compared them with the size of the submersible.

sponge 3

He added that sponge experts have so far been unable to identify the animal’s genus.

“Here’s this animal that has presumably never been encountered before and it’s enormous and that kind of brings up a little intrigue for deep water and what else exists down there,” he said.

At more than 140,000 square miles, the Papahānaumokuākea marine park is the largest conservation area in the US, and larger than every other US national park combined.

Joseph Pawlik, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, said measuring the size of sponges can be difficult, given their serpentine shape and peculiar structures. By studying large barrel sponges, Pawlik has devised a method to estimate age and size based on volume.

“Largest implies volume,” he said. “We have some pretty substantial sponges that are barrel sponges that have huge volume.”

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Momis should reveal what Rio Tinto said in Cairns

APNGBC may 2016

Bougainville Freedom Movement

It is interesting to note that President Momis has advised he is deeply concerned at the lengthy period that has elapsed – now about 21 months – while resources giant Rio Tinto has been reviewing the future of its majority shareholding in Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL).

President Momis recently attended and gave a speech at the Australia Papua New Guinea business forum in Cairns on 17 May 2016. In that speech he states,

“The reason is that since August 2014, Rio Tinto has been reviewing the future of its 53.6 per cent equity in BCL. I have met with representatives of Rio twice to discuss the issues involved. I have sought an explanation as to what seems to the ABG the inordinate length of time taken to conduct the review. I am yet to receive any plausible explanation – other than claims of complexity of the issues involved.”

The speaker listed shortly after President Momis on 17 May, 2016 was Mr Peter Taylor, Managing Director, Rio Tinto (PNG) and Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL).

session 8

It is also interesting to note that at this point in time nothing has been publicly revealed about what Peter Taylor (or his proxy) had to say about his topic, “Resources Opportunities”.

The Speech of President Momis [pdf file 600KB] has been published for the public to read, yet the speech by Peter Taylor, the Managing Director of Rio Tinto (PNG) and Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) is impossible to find.

President Momis heard Peter Taylor’s speech on 17 May, so what are Peter Taylor, Rio Tinto (PNG) and Bougainville Cooper Limitied (BCL) up to? Please explain.

Time to reveal all President Momis!

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Fiji: Youth call for tighter mine monitoring

xinfa bauxite bua

Serafina Silaitoga | The Fiji Times | May 27, 2016

THE Bua Urban Youth Network has called on Government to tighten monitoring process of the bauxite mine.

In a press release, the organisation believes the task of monitoring rehabilitation works at the Nawailevu mine site should have been given to the Department of Environment.

“Bua Urban Youth Network is calling on government agencies responsible to vigorously monitor safety, environmental and social impacts and immediately take mitigating action to address loopholes,” the release said.

“A critical part of this monitoring should have been played by the Nawailevu community, but their effective inclusion has consistently been undermined since 2011,” the release said.

“They did not give their free, prior and informed consent to the initiative in the first place and this affected their ability to effectively monitor their environment throughout the mining period.”

The release added the tragic accident in which a worker died at the bauxite mine should not have happened.

Minister for Labour Semi Koroilavesau said a team was investigating the incident.

“The accident has been brought to the attention of our Labasa office on (23/05/16) and our officers have already been deployed to carry out investigations into the accident,” he said.

“If a non-compliance issue is identified, various mechanisms such as verbal advise, formal correspondence and issuing of relevant notices, are used to ensure that workplaces meet the minimum OHS standards.”

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MCC delay report on fatal accident


Mining Minister: “Basically that is what is causing the delay in addressing the stop-work order. We are waiting for this report from the company which has taken the company about six weeks for them to submit” 

Report to decide Basamuk’s fate

Post Courier | 27 May, 2016

A decision on the Ramu Nickel’s Basamuk refinery operations is pending an independent technical investigation report from the mine management.

The Government will make a decision to lift the stop-work order placed only after the report on the fatal incident of April 12 is submitted.

The company had been ordered to engage an independent third party to investigate the incident which killed a Chinese national worker and caused bodily injuries to two other national workers.

This order follows initial investigations by the Mineral Resources Authority’s Mines Inspectorate on site on April 14 revealing serious unsafe and defective management systems that were prevalent on the high pressure acid leach trains.

The report was to be submitted to the Government for assessment and determination on the next course of action.

However, Mining Minister Byron Chan said so far Ramu Nickel has not submitted that report despite assurances from the company that it would by May 25 (yesterday).

“Basically that is what is causing the delay in addressing the stop-work order. We are waiting for this report from the company which has taken the company about six weeks for them to submit,” he said.

Mr Chan said the Government in the meantime has allowed the company to carry out other equipment preservation activities but with conditions that they must not interfere with evidences of the ongoing investigations.

“I am aware that the stop work order has not affected the company’s ability to continue to export nickel and cobalt during this period.

“I want to assure the company that it is in our interest to return the refinery back to normal operations but we must do so under safe conditions. To do otherwise is not an option.”

Meanwhile, the Minister has announced Lave Michael, former deputy Chief Inspector as the new Chief Inspector of Mines, taking over from Mohan Singh.

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Fiji ministry probes death

xinfa bauxite bua

Serafina Silaitoga and Luke Rawalai | The Fiji Times | May 26, 2016

THE Ministry of Labour does not monitor the occupational health and safety standard issues at all mining sites.

Minister for Labour Semi Koroilavesau confirmed this yesterday as he responded to questions from this newspaper following the death of 29-year-old Floyd Williams at the bauxite mining site in Bua last Saturday.

“The ministry is not aware of any safety concerns raised by the workers in the mines as this area is not regulated by our ministry,” Mr Koroilavesau said.

“The Health and Safety at Work Act 1996 applies to all workplaces except those workplaces connected with the Mining Act, Quarries Act, Explosives Act and Petroleum (Exploration and Exploitation) Act.

“Therefore, the National OHS Service does not monitor the OHS standard at all mining sites, as these are exempted from the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act.”

But Mr Koroilavesau assured that investigations had started into the incident in Bua.

“The accident has been brought to the attention of our Labasa office and our officers have already been deployed to carry out investigations into the accident.

“If a non-compliance issue is identified, various mechanisms such as verbal advice, formal correspondence and issuing of relevant notices, are used to ensure that workplaces meet the minimum OHS standards.

“If an offence is committed against the Health and Safety at Work Act 1996, maximum fines of up to $100,000 in the case of a corporation or $10,000 in any other case, are imposed.”

Mr Koroilavesau said in cases of a serious offence being committed, legal proceedings were instituted against the person committing the offence.

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Canadian Company Wants to Mine for Gold on the Bottom of the Ocean

new ireland canoe

Michael Casey | Vice News | May 25, 2016

As we drive down the empty, two-lane highway, the clusters of seaside resorts, tin-roofed homes and finely manicured lawns on this Papua New Guinea island give way to lowland rain forests and palm oil plantations. The telephone lines eventually disappear as do the satellite dishes and, within hours, the team from Nautilus Minerals is on a rutted, dirt road.

Beyond the occasional sprawling logging camps on New Ireland, there are few signs the modern world has touched this part of the Asia-Pacific nation of 600 islands and 800 languages. Largely cut off from the outside world, villagers earn a few dollars each week farming small patches in the forest for sweet potatoes and coconuts and catching the occasional fish from their flimsy, dugout canoes. There is no electricity here, no toilets, no phone services, no cars. Big black pigs are a sign of status and community life revolves around ancient tribal rituals evoked by the spirit houses and shark calling, a dying tradition where villagers shake rattles made of seashells to attract sharks in the Bismarck Sea to the shores before snatching them up with their hands.

Nautilus, an exploration mining company headquartered in Toronto, has come to these villages along the coast to pitch a simple but controversial message: We can make your lives better if you let us mine the seafloor.

Villagers have embraced offers of new sanitation systems, homes and bridges. But they don’t fully comprehend what Nautilus wants to do starting as early as 2018 at a site 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) off the coast. Located about 1,600 meters (5,200 feet) down, the site is home to a network of hydrothermal vents and near an undersea volcano. It’s a harsh environment where mineral-rich water as hot as 400 degrees Celsius (750 degrees Fahrenheit) pours through the vents, meeting icy cold water and forming the concentrations of gold, copper and other minerals that are 10 times what is found in traditional mines on land.

A villager taking a break from preparing the evening meal in one of a string of villages that are on the front lines of the mining project. (Mike Casey)

A villager taking a break from preparing the evening meal in one of a string of villages that are on the front lines of the mining project. (Mike Casey)

A race to the bottom of the sea 
There is plenty at stake if the company goes ahead with its ambitions plans. A successful project has the potential to set off a modern day gold rush to the seafloor, a prospect that troubles deep-sea scientists and environmentalists who fear the mining could destroy some of the world’s most diverse and poorly understood ecosystems.

Because of technological advances, difficulties of mining on land and growing demand for minerals like copper, gold and zinc, scores of nations and multinational conglomerates are rushing to lay claim to huge areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — some sites the size of small countries.

Supporters see this as a chance to tap the 70 percent of minerals not on land and transform the way we source these natural resources found in phones, computers, and other electronic devices. Nautilus contends that, by drilling underwater, it can actually shrink its environmental footprint. On land, mining means displacing villages, fouling rivers with mine waste, and lopping off entire mountains to get to the minerals — none of which Nautilus says it will do.

“There are a lot of resources on the seafloor. It’s not inconceivable that ocean mining will be a similar thing in 20 years to what offshore oil and gas is for things like copper, nickel, cobalt, and zinc,” said Nautilus CEO Mike Johnston, whose company is set to take a critical step forward when it tests its underwater mining tools off the coast of Oman in the coming months. “We can’t say we are only going to do this stuff on land … We have to look at the impact man has over the entire planet.”

“If you wipe out large areas of seafloor and cause species extinction, you actually change the future of life on earth, how it evolves, if you do it on a large enough scale.”

The idea of scooping up minerals from the sediments of the world’s oceans has mesmerized adventurers for eons.

Manganese nodules were first discovered in the late 19th century in the Kara Sea during the expedition of the H.M.S. Challenger. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that anyone seriously considered tapping the ocean’s riches of gold, silver, zinc, magnesium, iron, cobalt, and copper.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered the first hydrothermal vents in the Galapagos Rift, more than 2,500 meters (8,202 feet) down in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America. And Lockheed Martin spent three years collecting thousands of samples from the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean.

But the sector struggled to gain respect not only from suspicious governments, but the traditional mining industry.

“A lot of people laughed at us,” said Julian Malnic, an Australian exploration geologist who started Nautilus in the 1990s and has been described as the godfather of marine mining.

“One high-profile commentator suggested we were going to use explosives. They don’t even work down there,” he said.

“There was a big ignorance factor which everyone was in a hurry to showcase but, in my experience, when you have a new idea, you haven’t got a friend in the world.”

A copper iron sulfide from the bottom of the ocean from the Volcanic Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. (Mike Casey)

A copper iron sulfide from the bottom of the ocean from the Volcanic Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. (Mike Casey)

While mining giant Anglo-American at one point had a small stake in Nautilus, none of the other big players have dipped their toes in the water. The sector has mostly dominated by tiny companies with names like Diamond Field International and Neptune Resources that fill their websites with glossy photos and videos of potential sites with a prospector’s air of excitement at the incredible minerals waiting to be mined. No one has yet to do it on a commercially viable scale.

Malnic attributed that to the cautious nature of the mining industry and the boom and bust cycle that comes with the territory. A lack of governance has also hurt efforts to mine in international waters while national governments have become increasingly alarmed over fears of potential pollution from the mining.

There’s reason for caution.

Scientists and environmentalists warn that the technology is unproven and that widespread mining could destroy hundreds, if not thousands of miles of hydrothermal vents systems, undersea mountains, and submarine volcanoes as well as seamounts containing deep sea coral. In doing so, the world could lose scores of species before they are even investigated by scientists as well as potential resources for new classes of drugs, cosmetics, and fuels.

“If you wipe out large areas of seafloor and cause species extinction, you actually change the future of life on earth, how it evolves, if you do it on a large enough scale,” said University of Hawaii’s Craig Smith, a co-author on a paper in Science last year that called for implementing adequate environmental protections for deep sea mining.

“We are doing it on terrestrial environments clearly. So far, we haven’t done it on that scale in the deep sea but there is potential if things aren’t managed,” he added.

“A lot of people are quite shocked to find out about deep sea mining,” said Helen Rosenbaum of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, a coalition of anti-mining NGOs from the South Pacific, Australia and Canada, noting that oceans are already under threat from pollution, overfishing and climate change.

“The general public aren’t aware of it,” she said. “This is another way in which our oceans are being hammered. They are already predicted to fail ecologically over the next couple of decades if we continue business as usual with the impacts they are already experiencing — let alone this new one.”

One company’s experiment
The companies themselves have had their own challenges, none more so than Nautilus.

Malnic first secured rights to the site off PNG’s New Ireland in 1997 after attending a presentation at Australia’s premier scientific institution, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, on the discovery of seafloor massive sulfides at the bottom of the Bismarck Sea.

He did what any good mining prospector would do. He reconstructed the seafloor maps and quickly secured exploration licenses in PNG for Solwara 1 and another site in 1997. From there, he started scouring the South Pacific for other sites, recognizing that most were within the 200-mile economic exclusion zone of these island nations.

“Here were these beautiful high grade sulfides coming out of the box,” said Malnic, recalling the lecture when the ore from the Bismarck Sea was put on display.

“I could see immediately the great potential,” he said. “I’m still totally excited. This is the frontier for copper and zinc production in the future.”

The excitement, however, would give way to a decade or more of frustration and delays.

Traditional mining companies wouldn’t touch the project and efforts to raise capital came up against, what Malnic calls, “the second half of a nuclear winter of zero capital available for exploration and mineral projects.” But the 1997-98 economic crisis was just beginning.

It would be another five years before the crisis eased and a metals market, driven by the emergence of the resource-hungry Chinese economy, started recovering. Soon enough, the suitors started knocking on Nautilus’ doors.

Yet even as the financing began flowing, the company struggled. Malnic left in 2006 and the company went through two more CEOs before settling on Johnston. Its stock, which debuted on the Toronto Stock Exchange, reached a high of $4.38 in 2008 before falling rapidly to 14 cents.

At the same time, the company learned just how hard it can be to operate in a tribal society where minerals like gold and copper are abundant — but so is corruption, angry landowners, and activists increasingly fearful about the environmental damage caused by mining.

It didn’t help that the company was arriving on the back of several high profile mining disasters in PNG, including the spillage of tens of millions tons of waste from the Ok Tedi gold and copper mine that polluted a river on the island that tens of thousands depend on for water.

“They spent $400 million and didn’t come up with a mine,” said Malnic — money he claims mostly went to scientific studies and other fieldwork. “It was just catastrophic. They could have been mining twice over for that much and they came away with a bunch of studies and some contracts. It’s unforgivable.”

Nautilus and the PNG government also fell out over the government’s failure to contribute its share of developing cost to the project, forcing the dispute into court and almost killing the project. The unstable government — at one point featuring two, dueling prime ministers — didn’t help.

But the two sides resolved their differences and the government got a stake in the project’s potentially lucrative intellectual property. The settlement has the easy-going Johnston — a New Zealander who often favors a dress shirt and jeans to a suit and throws in the occasional cuss word when making a point — more bullish than he has been in years.

“When we were in the dispute with the government, a lot of people were sitting on the sidelines watching,” said Johnston, who has been credited with repairing relations between the two sides and has been known to spend days in villages counter rumors and allegations against the company. “Now that the dispute is finished, there is a lot of interest again. A lot people want to see us go a little bit further.

A rush to get a piece of the action 
Some of the greatest interest in seabed mining in the past few years has been around the Clarion Clipperton zone, an area about 80 percent the size of the contiguous United States in the Pacific between Mexico and Hawaii. By some estimates, it contains an estimated 62 billion tons of nickel, copper and cobalt in bowling ball-sized nuggets that litter the seafloor.

Because these are in international waters, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a tiny U.N.-affiliated body with offices in Jamaica, is tasked with issuing licenses to explore these and other areas. Just in the past four years through 2015, the number of exploration license has jumped from 7 in 2006, to 27 in an area that encompasses 1.4 million square kilometers.

“Right now, we don’t know what will happen when mining starts. We do know the animals living at the sites that are mined will be eradicated but we don’t know whether or how quickly those communities can become reestablished.” 

Increasingly, companies backed by Russia, Japan, and China, as well as tiny island nations like Tonga and Kiribati, are taking out permits to explore huge sections of the area. One of the biggest private firms, UK Seabed Resources — a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin UK — is prospecting for minerals in a 22,300 square mile area of the Clarion Clipperton zone and says that could bring $60 billion to the UK economy over a 30-year period.

“What we have seen in the past few years is a huge explosion in activity,” said Michael Lodge, the deputy to the ISA’s secretary-general and legal counsel.

“It shows an increasing interest in the sector and prospects for the sector. There are two or three things converging — developments in technology that makes it more realistic and the cost of traditional mineral projects is becoming more expensive and difficult to source,” he said. “You are reaching a point of equilibrium. Although seabed mining is terribly expensive and very high risk, it’s competitive with the cost of setting up a source on land. Also, people are looking for long-term sources of very high grade minerals.”

For now, much of the action is on building the mining equipment in places like the United States and United Kingdom that has been adapted from technology already in use in the oil and gas, dredging and coal industries. Once it starts, the plans call for lowering several remote-controlled, robotic cutting machines to the seafloor. Mineral-laced rocks will be carved from the seafloor and sent up through riser pipes and lifting systems to a tanker-like ship waiting on the surface. The excess water from the ore will be returned to the sea bottom and the minerals sent to China’s state-owned Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group.

Map of hydrothermal vents (S. Beaulieu, K. Joyce, and S.A. Soule (WHOI), 2010; funding from InterRidge and Morss Colloquium Program at WHOI)

Map of hydrothermal vents (S. Beaulieu, K. Joyce, and S.A. Soule (WHOI), 2010; funding from InterRidge and Morss Colloquium Program at WHOI)

More than just minerals in the deep 
Stace Beaulieu, a biological oceanographer at Woods Hole who has spent the past 20 years studying the biodiversity and abundance of life on the ocean’s seafloor, has watched this growing interest in deep sea mining warily.

“Right now, we don’t know what will happen when mining starts,” she said. “We do know the animals living at the sites that are mined will be eradicated but we don’t know whether or how quickly those communities can become reestablished. That uncertainty is why a lot of deep-sea scientists have great concern about mining.”

Like the other scientists in Lauren Mullineaux’s lab at Woods Hole who study the world’s hydrothermal vents and other seafloor habitats, the wiry and energetic Beaulieu is passionate about the deep sea. If she isn’t gearing up for a weeks-long journey on a research vessel, the avid runner and biker is hunkered down in her tiny, crowded lab. It’s filled with mementos of past trips including nets and foot-long bottles containing red-tipped tube worms and dozens of preserved samples in ethanol. Just down the road from the lab is the tranquil, ocean-side community of Woods Hole, with its lobster shack, organic coffee shops, and a marina that looks out on Vineyard Sound.

Unlike other scientists who may study the seafloor’s large creatures like clams, crabs, or tubeworms, Beaulieu and her lab-mates are more concerned with the macro fauna — the deep sea invertebrate communities including snails, smaller worms, and crustaceans. They are among the most diverse animals on the seafloor and play a critical role in the food web.

“We want to find early life stages of animals that live on the sea floor,” she said, holding up a pinky-sized tube containing samples that came from a 2010 trip to the Mariana Arc and the site of an erupting submarine volcano. “Now, they are mostly transparent and white. In life, they have beautiful colors. They are much more beautiful alive.”

When the first hydrothermal vents were discovered in 1977, scientists were shocked with what they saw. Instead of flat, featureless desert, they found vents teaming with tubeworms, mussels, clams, crabs, snails and shrimp.

“The thing that caught everyone’s attention when they first discovered the vents was the large numbers and large volumes and large biomass in the animals and communities,” said Mullineaux, who has been on 30 cruises and made nearly 40 dives as part of her work studying the dispersal of larvae of benthic invertebrates and their return to the sea floor.

A researcher examining samples under a microscope taking from hydrothermal vents in Lauren Mullineaux's lab at Woods Hole. (Mike Casey)

A researcher examining samples under a microscope taking from hydrothermal vents in Lauren Mullineaux’s lab at Woods Hole. (Mike Casey)

“This was a huge surprise because, at that time, we thought deep sea communities were being fed by small particles that drifted down from the sea surface where they were produce by photosynthesis,” she said. “Clearly, that production by photosynthesis was not sufficient to fuel these amazing robust communities that we found on the seafloor.”

Mullineaux said they realized something else entirely was happening — a process called chemosynthesis, where microbes convert chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids into usable energy.

Since then, hundreds of vents have been discovered and thousands more are believed out there. Many are home to strange creatures that go to unusual lengths to thrive in these toxic environments. One of the strangest is a family of tubeworms calledSiboglinidae that have no mouth or gut and “get all their sustenance by these endosymbionic microbes that live inside them.”

In the Clarion Clipperton zone, scientists are just beginning to explore its rolling seafloors which have higher diversity than vents, but are mostly dominated by tiny creatures living in the sediment.

“I’m just working on the data now and the samples are some of the most diverse, have some of the highest species diversity of samples ever collected from the sea floor,” Smith said, who is doing baseline surveys for UK Seabed Resources, noting that each of these quarter square meter samples contain upwards of 60 species of polychaete worms, crustaceans, mollusks and snails.

“These are animals living in the sediment that you don’t normally see,” he said. “Every sample we bring up has dozens of new species. In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of the animals, the species we bring up are new to science. People get all excited about the discovery of a new species in a terrestrial environment. We are bringing up hundreds of them on every cruise.”

To mine or not to mine 
When he is not at sea, Smith is part of a group of scientists helping to shape environmental measures being drawn up by ISA. Unlike environmentalists who want an all-out ban on deep sea mining, Smith and others are more pragmatic, arguing mining will happen at some point, so they are trying to determine where it can and can’t go.

“I think slowing down is an excellent idea,” said Lisa Levin, who is with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and who co-founded the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative, which among other things advises on the use of resources in the deep ocean. “We should be slowing down and collecting relevant information that is needed to make a decision. In most cases, I don’t think we have it. If a moratorium is a way to slow down, that works.”

What makes drawing up these regulations challenging, Levin said, is that each type of mining would take place in ecosystems that “operate on different time and space scales.”

“Some are small and patchy. Some are heavily disturbed and recover quickly. Some are vast and processes are very slow. Some animals live for hundred or thousands of years and others live for 10 years,” Levin said. “So each system requires a careful look at the dynamics and the composition and the vulnerability of those ecosystems to mining impacts.”

Duke University’s Cindy Lee Van Dover and other scientists have suggested staggering the mining activity in a certain area, as well as limiting mining to inactive vents that could be easier to mine, but also less important environmentally. Companies should also consider setting aside areas within their sites so the mining impacts can be evaluated and relocating species deemed ecologically significant.

The Sully Vent in the Main Endeavour Vent Field of the northeastern Pacific Ocean. (NOAA)

The Sully Vent in the Main Endeavour Vent Field of the northeastern Pacific Ocean. (NOAA)

But with no past experience to go on, it can be a struggle for scientists to know where to draw the line on where mining can take place . Nautilus, for example, may be starting with Solwara I, but it has far greater ambitions.

It has more than 500,000 square kilometers (310,686 miles) of exploration acreage in the Western Pacific, including some 19 sites in the Bismarck. It also has sites in Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, as well as international waters in the eastern Pacific.

“The cumulative impacts for any of the mining scenario is what is really critical,” Van Dover said. “If Nautilus only mines one site, no big deal. If they mine two sites, we don’t know. Three sites, we don’t know where the tipping is, where does it matter in terms of the connectivity of the animals and when will you lose not just species diversity but ecosystem function and services.”

Short of wiping out the tube worms, bivalves, and gastropods living around the Nautilus vents, even mining on a small scale has the potential for disaster. There also are concerns the project could change the chemistry near the vent sites and produce toxic plumes that could bury organism and clog the feeding apparatus of sea creatures.

“There is no way to know where the plume is going to go until they make it,” said Van Dover, who has in the past studied the Nautilus site. “We haven’t seen the mining tools in action. We don’t know how much sediment they are going to move.”

Islanders — Guinea pigs or pioneers? 
Opponents, who for several years have waged a global campaign against the Nautilus project, paint a far grimmer picture. In a series of detailed reports, they warn that storms, spills, or technical snafus could spark a disaster that would wipe out fisheries, destroy some of the world’s most diverse coral reefs, and pollute the waters of coastal communities across the South Pacific.

“People are afraid because they know there will be damage on our reefs, affecting our marine life,” said David Bekeman, a primary school teacher in Komalu, a village near the mine site. “Nautilus is telling us there will be no damage. We definitely know there will damage but we don’t have the power to stop anyone from doing anything in the sea.”

While Nautilus is building latrines and handing out textbooks, a loose-knit and cash-strapped group of opponents that includes young activists, school teachers, church leaders, and a retired army colonel have tried to raise awareness in the international community and the impacted villages.

A young child in Komalu where villagers fear deep sea mining may disrupt traditional ways of life. (Mike Casey)

A young child in Komalu where villagers fear deep sea mining may disrupt traditional ways of life. (Mike Casey)

“We aren’t anti-development but we are saying to the government it must act responsibly,” said William Bartley, a retired colonel who opposed the project. “Papua New Guinea is not ready for this. They have not even told us what actions they would take supposing an environmental disaster does occur.”

Johnston dismisses the criticism from “outside groups” that “don’t want this to happen” and insists his project will only cause harm to the fauna at the mine site. “I’ve heard a lot of that stuff and a lot of that is misinformation. I’ve heard the one about poisoning the water. I don’t even know where that comes from,” Johnston said. “It makes me quite angry when I see outside NGOs telling villagers that is going to happen because the river is really important to them.”

In these villages of mostly bamboo huts surrounded by idyllic views of the rocky coastline, the villagers are left with competing versions of the future. Will mining activities bring development or destruction to their lands?

The company is also a regular presence in the villages, conducting surveys and laying the groundwork for its first development projects. Like so many mining companies, they are often tasked with doing the job of the government — which appears to have largely left these remote villagers to fend for themselves. And with little investment until now, even the most basic things need the company’s attention.

A government office building in the Papua New Guinea town of Kavieng, the capital of New Ireland where the mining will take place. The capital, located on Balgai Bay, is several hours from the mining site. (Mike Casey)

A government office building in the Papua New Guinea town of Kavieng, the capital of New Ireland where the mining will take place. The capital, located on Balgai Bay, is several hours from the mining site. (Mike Casey)

The schools, for example, lack textbooks, water and toilets — forcing children to relieve themselves in rivers and exposing girls to sexual harassment and even rape. The classrooms have almost nothing beyond a chalkboard. Any students must walk hours, if not an entire day, to reach them.

The medical clinics — also hours away by foot — are often shuttered due to a lack of medicine. As a result, some of the most common causes of death in the villages are childbirth as well as treatable diseases like malaria and respiratory ailments, according to surveys done by Nautilus.

In the villages, there are no shops or any commercial activity, since the mountain roads are often impassable during heavy rains. The only sign of tourism is an abandoned guest house built by an Israeli adventurer. Most farmers, meanwhile, have abandoned cash crops like coconuts in favor of staples like yams, since it can be such a challenge to get them to markets.

The talk from Nautilus of fighting diseases and easing hunger resonates with villagers like Jenny Gebo, who in her tattered blouse and skirt laments how it takes her all day just to gather enough vegetables to cook the evening meal. Standing over a smoky fire, she was preparing a traditional Papuan meal called mumu, in which the food is soaked in coconut, wrapped in banana leaves, and cooked over a pit.

“We are finding it hard now to help our families,” said Gebo, a mother of four from Komalu, one of the closest villages to the mining site. “The mining could help our families. But if the mining comes and the seas get polluted, we won’t get the fresh fish.”

Villager Henry Tabu hopes that improvements touted by Nautilus will help him and his family. (Mike Casey)

Villager Henry Tabu hopes that improvements touted by Nautilus will help him and his family. (Mike Casey)

Out in the forest a few miles from the village, Henry Tabu was tending to fires he had lit to clear his land. As the flames reached several feet in the air and the smoke seared his eyes, Tabu, bare-chested and wearing a cross, recalled how he didn’t earn enough money to send all his five children to school. He complained that his tiny plot barely was enough to feed his family.

“We are trying our best to look after our family,” Tabu said, as his children stoked the fire and a puppy whined in the background. “The project will come. It will help in some ways to make people live better. Maybe it will help me look after my family.”


Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

Fiji: Father’s Wedding Plans For Son Crushed

Waseroma Lava (right), and daughter, Asilika Fisher yesterday. Insert is the late Floyd William. Photo: Peni Drauna

Waseroma Lava (right), and daughter, Asilika Fisher yesterday. Insert is the late Floyd William. Photo: Peni Drauna

Peni Drauna | Fiji Sun | 25 May, 2016

A father’s big wedding plan was ruined after his 29-year-old son died at the bauxite mining site of Xinfa Aurum Exploration (Fiji) Limited at Matasawalevu in Dreketi last weekend.

Nabavatu villager Waseroma Lava in Dreketi said his son Floyd William was the eldest of six siblings and was supposed to get married in August.

“He was working as a supervisor for his company for two years,” the 49-year-old father said.

“On Saturday, an employee of his company came to us with a message stating that William was crushed by a conveyor belt carrying soil containing bauxite.”

He was rushed to the Dreketi Health Centre but was pronounced dead.

“I was in shock and till today I do not believe the details revealed by the company over the cause of his death.

“I do not demand for compensation.

“Instead, I am looking for truth and a valid explanation.

“William was a much disciplined man, kind and friendly.

“He was financially supporting our family since my wife and I are unemployed.

“He was a very talented rugby player who played for Labasa Army and warden team.”

When Fiji Sun contacted Xinfa Aurum Exploration (Fiji) limited managing director Sireli Dagaga yesterday he said he could not comment.

“The Fiji Police Force, Department of Mineral Resources and Department of Labour are carrying out their individual investigations,” Mr Dagaga said.

“During the incident there was no eye-witness and it would take us a while to comment.”

Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations Semi Koroilavesau said his northern team was informed yesterday of the incident at Dreketi last weekend. The team was there now to conduct investigations on the site.

Meanwhile, Police spokeswoman Ana Naisoro said this case was a work related accident and investigation continues.

The post mortem of the victim is yet to be conducted.


Filed under Fiji, Human rights

New firm repairs Tolukuma mine


The National, aka The Loggers Times | May 24th, 2016

THE Asidokona Mining Resources, the new operator of the Tolukuma mine, is rehabilitating the mine, director Vincent Siow says. 
Siow said an independent mining consultant had been engaged to assist in the process. 
The mine was handed over by Petromin Holdings Limited (now Kumul Mineral Holdings Limited) last December. 
“A short five months have transpired and we have been busy trying to rehabilitate the mine,” Siow said. 
He said the mine was flooded because the previous owner had stopped dewatering it.
“Realising the gravity of the situation, and having being selected as the preferred bidder for the mine, we arranged with Petromin (previous owner) in September 2015 to allow us to commence dewatering the mine and we have been dewatering it since then,” he said.
“To date, we are yet to reach the areas where Petromin last mined.
“We expect to do so within the next couple of months. 
“We have engaged an independent mining consultant to assist with the mining programmes and will undertake some resource drilling and other works necessary to estimate the life of the mine for the mining lease.”
Siow said the company would then be able to make plans accordingly.
“Planning for production is dependent on the outcome of the resources ascertained and indicated from the resource drilling programmes,” he said.
“We expect to be in a position to ascertain the resources available to commence full scale production beginning 2017.
“In the interim, there will be test production runs to assess the equipment status and operational shortcomings which we need to address before commencing efficient production.”
Meanwhile, he said the company had over 238 employees and 150 contractors providing other services.
“A marginal increase is expected when we start full production,”  he said.
“We have also embarked on some exploration studies on a couple of our exploration leases and in the course of which created a road.”

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Filed under Exploration, Mine construction, Papua New Guinea

From the Pacific to London: Ban experimental seabed mining

pacific to london

LONDON: This morning, NGOs and civil society are outside the 5th Annual Deep Sea Mining Summit calling for a ban on a potentially environmentally destructive “frontier” industry. They are calling on the EU to stop funding such reckless development activities and are standing in solidarity with NGOs, churches and community across the Pacific.

Natalie Lowrey, from the Australian based Deep Sea Mining campaign stated, “The South Pacific is currently the world’s laboratory for the experiment of seabed mining. With over over 1.5 million square kilometres of ocean floor already under exploration leasehold the world’s first licence to operate a deep sea mine has been granted in Papua New Guinea to Canadian company Nautilus Minerals Solwara 1 project in the Bismarck Sea.”

The Alliance of Solwara Warriors, which is made up of over 20 communities and organisations across the Bismarck and Solomon Seas, are making a stand to ‘Ban Seabed Mining’ in PNG and the Pacific.

Patrick Kaupun, from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated, “We call on Papua New Guineans and allies internationally to stand up and defend the Bismarck Sea and all other seas under threat from seabed mining. Our government and Nautilus Minerals have not got the people’s free prior and informed consent. The sea is our life. We exist because the sea exists. We will not continue to remain quiet and passive. We have a responsibility to those generations that come after us; to those yet unborn.”

Janet Tokupep, also from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors said, “Judging from the monster size of the machines that will be tested in our seas, there is no question that this new “frontier” industry will destroy our environment and communities in PNG and the Pacific. With such serious liabilities in the face of an untested and untried industry, including the fact that we currently have terrible track records of terrestrial mining, seabed mining is a disastrous investment.”

Joseph Lambert from London based organisation, The Gaia Foundation said, ‘This highly experimental mining is being rushed ahead with more concern for profit than the damage it will do to the environment and communities. Our oceans are already facing unprecedented warming and acidification; when we should be caring for it most, mining companies are devising new ways to pollute it.’

recent report from the World Bank stated that Pacific Island countries should take precaution over any plans for mining of their seabed’s due to a high risk of irreversible damage to their ecosystems. This calls into question EU funding towards the development of seabed mining in the Pacific, an industry which would be unacceptable in its own member countries. 

“This is 21st Century colonialism”, explained Lowrey. “By funding and endorsing this experimental extractive industry, the EU are complicit in continuing the ‘empire’ tradition in which it believes it should be free to rape and pillage the Pacific for its own profit.”

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Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea