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Marape Backs Moratorium, Leans Towards Ban On Experimental Seabed Mining

Matthew Vari | Post Courier | August 15, 2019

Prime Minister James Marape has indicated he will support a proposed regional moratorium on seabed mining, however, could not go as far as to say a ban outright would be needed.

In an interview with the Post-Courier at the opening ceremony of the Pacific Islands Forum on Tuesday, Mr Marape responded when asked in relation to Fiji’s stance on the matter, that he would support the move, making specific reference to what he described the Nautilus Solwara 1 project as “a total failure”.

During Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s opening remarks at the Sautalaga climate update meet on Monday, he informed leaders present of Fiji introducing its own climate change act, of which the country will push an ambitious proposal for both its national and a regional moratorium on seabed mining.

“I ask you all to join in this ambitious venture and also support a 10 year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030 which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zone and territorial waters,” Mr Bainimarama said.

Sentiments supported by James Marape regarding the proven viability of deep sea mining, which he said is not yet a proven concept. “As a nation we have lost over K300 million in a concept of deep sea mining.

“Until that deep sea mining technology is environmentally sound and takes care of our environment at the same time we mine it, then at this point in time, I support the call made by the Fijian Prime Minister, we just need to have the best technology available,” Mr Marape sternly said.

When asked if it could go as far as supporting a ban, the Prime Minister left this option out adding just as the moratorium aims to prove the viability- that process will prove “on a case by case basis going into the future”.

“If there is an opportunity for deep sea mining, so long as environmentally it is friendly and the harvest of resource is done in a sustainable manner then we can give considerations to this, but right now it is a show.

“We don’t have the luxury of that informed decisional research.

“This is because that technology is not proven anywhere and PNG we burnt almost K300 million in that Nautilus (Solwara) 1 project on a concept that someone told us it can work, but it is a concept that is a total failure as I speak,” the PM said.

Apart from 15 per cent state investment in the project, Kumul Mineral Holdings is also seeking redress for the unearned revenue to the tune of US$51 million (K173m).

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Fiji calls for sea-bed mining moratorium as Nautilus restructures

Nic Maclellan | Islands Business | August 13, 2019

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has again called for a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining, at a time that many Pacific island nations are preparing for new frontiers of resource exploitation in the marine environment.

Speaking in Tuvalu this week before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on fellow Forum island states to “support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.”

There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and US corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.

Fiji’s call for a moratorium comes as community groups across the region are campaigning against potential environmental hazards of deep-sea mining, especially to ecologically sensitive hydrothermal vents. A report from the Guam-based Blue Ocean Law argues:

“There is a general failure to incorporate sufficient environmental protections, as well as the norm of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples, who are most likely to be impacted by DSM. In the 21st century, and under well-established norms of international law, these omissions represent serious violations of international legal obligations.”

Bainimarama’s call comes the same week as major restructuring of the Nautilus Minerals corporation, which has been planning to commence mining off the coast of Papua New Guinea, under a world-first licence issued by the PNG government.

Fiji and oceans policy

In recent years, Fiji has taken a leading role in ocean policy at the United Nations, working with other Forum island countries through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed former Fiji UN Ambassador Peter Thomson as the UN Special Envoy on the Ocean.

This global campaigning is also translating into domestic legislation. Speaking in Tuvalu this week, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030.”

Under the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, island nations are seeking to draw the links between oceans and climate policy. Bainimarama noted that Fiji was working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership to develop “a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.”

Pacific DSM initiatives

Under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), many Forum island countries with large EEZs have been in discussions with transnational corporations to partner in deep sea exploration for maritime resources. Under UNCLOS and the authority of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing countries can also partner with overseas corporations to licence exploration in “The Area”, international waters that include vast arrays of minerals in Pacific Ocean areas such as the Clarion-Clipperton zone.

Nauru has long been a champion of DSM – at last year’s Forum leaders’ meeting, Nauru President Baron Waqa hosted a side even with ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge and Samantha Smith, the former Head of Environment and Social Responsibility with the deep-sea mining corporation DeepGreen.

This new frontier has drawn in regional organisations, to address legal, technical and regulatory issues around DSM. Boundary limitation is a vital concern as Pacific nations seek to increase potential revenues from fisheries and seabed mining in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). From 2010-16, the European Union funded the Pacific Community (SPC) to develop model DSM legislation for Forum member states, with many civil society groups concerned this work was promoting rather than regulating DSM.

The SPC Maritime Boundaries Division has also been engaged in technical work to clarify borders between independent island states as well as with colonial powers like France and the United States (for example, Vanuatu and France have been involved in a decades-long dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands).

There are tensions between the administering powers and territorial governments over the control of seabed minerals in the remaining colonies in the region. With an EEZ of nearly 5 million square kilometres, ocean-floor resources could be vitally important for the newest Forum member, French Polynesia. However, as the French government moved to amend French Polynesia’s autonomy statue earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that rare earths can be classified as “strategic metals”, which come under the control of the French State rather than the Government of French Polynesia.  

Independence leaders have long argued against the French State’s control of strategic metals, with former Senator for French Polynesia Richard Ariihau Tuheiava telling the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 2017: “We have continually emphasised the critical nature of the resource question as a core issue for our future development. Whether or not these resources are considered in Paris to be ‘strategic’ is irrelevant to the applicability of international legal decisions which place the ownership of natural resources with the people of the non-self-governing territories.”

Collapse of PNG initiative

Early initiatives to begin sea-bed mining in the Pacific have not come to fruition. This week’s set-back to a major project in Papua New Guinea provides a salutary warning about the complexity and potential costs of DSM.

Under a licence issued by the PNG government, Nautilus Minerals has long planned to mine seabed minerals beneath PNG’s Bismarck Sea. However, with widespread community resistance, falling share prices and the loss of a specialised support vessel, Nautilus constantly pushed out the date for commencement of mining.

In February this year, Nautilus filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and the Canadian-based company was later delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This week, major shareholders MB Holding and Metalloinvest have moved to take control of company assets at the expense of major creditors and smaller shareholders (The PNG Government holds 15 per cent equity in Nautilus’ PNG subsidiary and the Solwara 1 project through the company Eda Kopa).

The looming collapse of the Solwara seabed mining initiative has been welcomed by civil society groups in Papua New Guinea, which have been campaigning against potential adverse impacts on ocean ecology.

Jonathan Mesulam of PNG’s Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated:

“We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinea want to see the nightmare of deep-sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”

Fiji’s call for a moratorium on DSM will be debated in the corridors at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, but there’s a way to go before all Forum member countries are willing to delay action on the supposed ocean El Dorado.

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Nautilus emerges, barely alive and impotent: just can’t get that deep sea mining project up

The PNG Government applied to the Canadian Court unsuccessfully to regain some of its failed investment

Deep Sea Mining Campaign | 13 August 2019

In a court appointed meeting today in Canada the creditors of Nautilus Minerals voted to effectively liquidate the company.  The two main shareholders – MB Holding and Metalloinvest – have taken control of a very much shrunken Nautilus at the expense of major creditors and hundreds of hopeful small shareholders.

Nautilus, which has been seeking to start the Solwara 1 mine off the coast of Papua New Guinea, filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) in February 2019. With its court-appointed monitors, Price Waterhouse Cooper, Nautilus has given up trying to find possible buyers of its assets.

Andy Whitmore of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign said,

“This is effectively a ‘smash and grab’ raid by the two main shareholders. But the company is essentially worthless. Its equipment is tailored to the mining of deep sea hydrothermal vents which the world now agrees are too ecologically valuable to mine. Even other DSM companies such as DeepGreen suggest mining hydrothermal vents creates an unacceptably high level of environmental impact..

In addition to this, Nautilus still faces an ever-widening community opposition over its Solwara 1 mine.

Jonathan Mesulam of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated,

“We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinean (PNG) want to see the nightmare of deep sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”

Andy Whitmore continued,

“Under the deal minor creditors will be fully repaid, while major ones will get 10% of what they are owed. The biggest loser is the PNG Government which held 15% equity in Nautilus PNG and the Solwara 1 project. It has been left stranded with a debt equivalent to one third of its annual health budget for country of 9 million people.” 

“The main shareholders through Deep Sea Mining Finance (DSMF) – the vehicle lending money to Nautilus – have swapped those debts for ownership of the company. While a cheap purchase, they end up owning very littleNautilus is a company with still no capital or support vessel to realise its deep sea mining ambitions. Also, because Nautilus was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange as part of the insolvency proceedings, the new Nautilus will now be a private company, and not open to the same level of scrutiny.” 

The PNG Government through its company Eda Kopa applied to the Canadian Court unsuccessfully to regain some of its failed investment. Smaller shareholders are considering a class action against the new company.

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Environmental activists to protest deep sea mining in Jamaica

Loop Jamaica | 22 July 2019

Greenpeace International environmental activists will visit Jamaica on Tuesday, July 23, to protest against deep sea mining in the island’s territorial waters, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has announced.

The environmental activist group will reportedly sail to the Kingston Harbour and dock outside the International Seabed Authority (ISA) annual meeting, where they will deploy a six-metre banner saying “No to deep sea mining, protect our oceans” and call on governments to agree on a strong Global Ocean Treaty that would protect the oceans from industrial exploitation.

Greenpeace’s ship, the Esperanza, sailed to Jamaica direct from the so-called Lost City in the mid-Atlantic, that is under threat after the ISA granted an exploration contract in the region. Scientists warn that deep sea mining could cause irreversible and inevitable harm to marine life, including extinctions of species, and drive the climate crisis by disrupting ‘blue carbon’ stores in the seabed. 

Greenpeace will be joined by the JET and several other representatives of Jamaican civil society groups in the protest.

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Kumul Minerals Files Claim For Solwara Project

Kumul Minerals seeks K173m from bankrupt Nautilus Minerals – GOOD LUCK!

Post Courier | July 17, 2019

Kumul Minerals Holdings has led a claim for unearned contribution to the Solwara 1 Deep Sea Mining Project.

KMH chairman Peter Graham announced this on Monday that the wholly owned subsidiary, Eda Kopa (Solwara) Limited, has led a claim for approximately US$51 million (K173m) under a Canadian court supervised creditors process initiated by the parent company of its joint-venturer in the Solwara 1 Project, Nautilus Minerals Niugi- ni Limited.

The claim relates to the unearned component of the contribution originally advanced by Eda Kopa to the Solwara 1 Project.

The Solwara 1 Deep-Sea Mining Project is a venture to mine polymetallic sulphide deposits located on the seabed in an area approximately 50km north of Rabaul and 30km west of New Ireland Province.

Mr Graham noted that in 2014 Eda Kopa contributed $120 million (K375 million) representing its full share of all project construction and development costs, both past and future, for its 15 per cent interest.

“Eda Kopa funded its contribution to the project by way of a K375 million loan from Bank South Pacific that was guaranteed by the State.

“Nautilus PNG, the project manager and joint-venturer responsible for funding the remaining 85 per cent of the project, has not been able to meet its funding obligations and, as a result, the project has stalled with a substantial proportion of the development work still to be undertaken.

“Eda Kopa has made claim for the portion of its contribution relating to the stalled development work.

While the prospects of creditors achieving any meaningful recovery appears low, this claim has also been led in an effort to preserve Eda Kopa’s rights and position,” said Mr Graham.

In February 2019, the Canadian listed parent company of Nautilus PNG, Nautilus Minerals Inc, sought protection from its creditors under the court supervised Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) process and initiated a sales and investment solicitation process (SISP) to restructure its business and financial ffairs.

The SISP was terminated in June 2019 and Nautilus and its principals are now directing their efforts towards reaching an agreement with creditors under the CCAA with a view towards potential restructure of Nautilus’ various projects and assets.

Eda Kopa’s claim has been made in accordance with this process.

Mr Graham said that; “While Eda Kopa has been patient in its dealings with Nautilus as that company has undertaken various efforts to secure funding, in light of Nautilus’ difficult circumstances, Eda Kopa now feels compelled to make the claim and take such action as it can to best protect the State’s interests.”

The project to date is yet to get off, and was initially set to begin production this year.

With the current action by KMH, an attempt to recoup possible earnings, it is also a desperate attempt to recoup what could possibly be half a billion kina loss that continues to grow, the longer the project fails to get to the ocean floor.

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Scottish Enterprise urged to rule out ‘damaging’ deep sea mining

Joe Lo | The Ferret  July 15, 2019

Environmental campaigners have called on the Scottish Government’s economic development agency not to spend taxpayers’ money subsidising a controversial new form of underwater mining.

A report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise echoed concerns that deep sea mining could lead to “the potential extinction of unique species” – but the agency has refused to rule out investing in the industry.

Deep sea mining envisages machines sucking up the seabed so that minerals like cobalt and manganese can be extracted for use in products such as mobile phones, wind turbines and batteries.

Although no mining has begun yet, mining sites have been proposed in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and near Peru and Japan.

The UK government, in collaboration with US arms company Lockheed Martin, has a license to mine an area larger than England off the west coast of Mexico.

An April 2017 report into deep sea mining commissioned by Scottish Enterprise was made public in July after a freedom of information request by Greenpeace’s Unearthed website.

The report was written by the research arm of Subsea UK which describes itself  “the champion” of the UK under-sea industry. “The environmental impacts of deep sea mining are not fully understood,” cautioned the report.

“The activities involved in subsea mining could have detrimental impacts on localised populations as well as an impact on world oceans through the potential extinction of unique species that form the first rung of the food chain.”

Scottish Enterprise said that it regularly undertook research into markets to understand their potential for Scotland’s businesses. “This report was commissioned to highlight the market potential in a range of sectors such as aquaculture and marine renewables, that Scotland’s subsea capability could be appropriate for in future market activity,” David Rennie, the agency’s head of oil and gas, told Unearthed.

“As yet we have not made any decisions, or progressed any activity, on how we might develop seabed mining. Other sectors such as marine renewables and aquaculture are likely to offer more immediate opportunities and any significant developments in seabed mining are likely to be some years off.”

But Friends of the Earth Scotland called for funding to be blocked now. “Scottish Enterprise should immediately rule out any support for deep sea mining,” said the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.

“It is absurd to even be considering putting public money into such a damaging activity at a time when the life in our oceans is already under so much threat from climate change, over fishing, plastic pollution and oil extraction.”

Greenpeace UK urged politicians to be held to account for planning to spend taxpayers’ money on deep sea mining. “Scottish Enterprise is well aware of the potential environmental risks and there needs to be much more of a public conversation about whether citizens, including avid Blue Planet fans, are prepared to permit the potential extinction of species and risking making climate change worse,” said the group’s oceans campaigner, Louisa Casson.

She authored a Greenpeace report in 2019 warning that deep sea mining could make climate change worse by releasing carbon stored in sediments or by disrupting process which help scavenge carbon and deliver it to those sediments. Marine life naturally absorbs carbon, carrying some of it to the seafloor when they die.

That we should be destroying these things is so deeply tragic. David Attenborough, broadcaster

Wildlife broadcaster, David Attenborough, has pointed out that the deep sea is where life began. “That we should be destroying these things is so deeply tragic,” he told the BBC. “I mean, that humanity should just plough on with no regard for the consequences, because they don’t know what they are.”

The UK parliament’s cross-party environmental audit committee has warned that deep sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts on the seafloor site and its inhabitants”. In a report, MPs called on the UK government not to use its deep sea mining licenses and to pressure other countries and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) not to issue any more licenses.

The committee also criticised regulation of the industry.”We are concerned that the ISA, the licensing body for seabed exploration, also stands to benefit from revenues, which is a clear conflict of interest,” they said.

A Scottish Enterprise spokesperson told The Ferret: “Developments in seabed mining are closely controlled and regulated by the International Seabed Authority and the industry is very much in its infancy. Should any project be brought forward in the future it would be subject to rigorous economic and environmental due diligence.”

The Scottish Government said it supports “clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas, balancing sustainable development with environmental protection”.

A government spokesperson added: “Any deep sea mining would be subject to regulatory controls and thorough assessment, including conducting an environmental appraisal.‎”

Three companies mentioned in the Scottish Enterprise report as potential recipients of support are Royal IHC, 2H Offshore and Soil Machine Dynamics. They all design machinery which could be used in deep sea mining and are all ultimately foreign-owned.

Royal IHC is majority-owned by the wealthy Dutch de Bruin family. 2H Offshore is ultimately owned by two US billionaires close to Donald Trump, Henry Kravis and George Roberts. Soil Machine Dynamics is ultimately majority-owned by the Chinese government.

When asked if it subsidises foreign owned companies, Scottish Enterprise said it works with “both indigenous and international companies”. On investing in companies owned by the Chinese state, a spokesperson stressed that the agency carried out “rigorous due diligence”.

Government wildlife and environment agencies all declined to comment, including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s chief scientist, Christine Maggs.

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Cooks govt uses final hours of Parliament to pass seabed bill

Cook Islands Democratic Party leader, Tina Browne Photo: Cook Islands Democratic Party

Radio New Zealand | 18 June 2019

A bid by the opposition in the Cook Islands to have a controversial seabed mining bill face further scrutiny has been quashed.

The Cook Islands News reports that, instead, the government forced it through parliament before adjourning indefinitely.

Opposition leader Tina Browne said her party did not oppose the bill, but she was not satisfied with the consultation process.

She wanted the bill put before a select committee.

Ms Browne said a major concern was how the bill gives the minister responsible for seabed minerals full authority to grant an exploration licence.

She raised concerns about fairness, given the government would also be one of the applicants – as well as the fear of officials being “tempted to do wrong things” with such power.

The government said the bill underwent an extensive consultation process.

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