Into the Abyss: Rationalizing Commercial Deep Seabed Mining through International Law - Chapter 17 - Natural Resources and the Law of the Sea - International Law Institute Series on International Law, Arbitration and Practice, Volume 2
Interest in deep seabed mining (DSM) continues to grow. In 2018, a joint consortium between Nautilus Minerals Niugini Limited (Nautilus) and Papua New Guinea (PNG) will conduct the first commercial DSM, thirty one miles away from PNG’s Rabaul. Meanwhile, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a body created under the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) to regulate DSM in areas beyond national jurisdiction, a zone called the Area, waits for its Legal and Technical Commission to finish drafting Regulations on Exploitation of Cobalt-rich Ferromanganese Crusts, Polymetallic Sulphides and Polymetallic Nodules (collectively, “Exploitation Regulations”). Mining companies sponsored by their home States can thereafter apply for exploitation licenses, making DSM possible within and beyond national jurisdiction.
Mining companies generally view deep sea minerals as complementary with, if not alternative source for terrestrial minerals, especially as demand increases and supply diminishes. Developing States, meanwhile, generally believe DSM can facilitate their transition to developed States status. Studies sponsored and commissioned by Nautilus additionally present DSM as the less harmful option, from an environmental and social perspective. Realization of one, if not all these assumptions—that metals’ supply risk are high, and that DSM is a developmental tool, and an environmental and social choice—in Nautilus’ Solwara 1 project will likely invite greater attention to DSM.