The robot is ready - so when will deep sea mining start?
By Stephen Eisenhammer and Silvia Antonioli
NEWCASTLE, England/LONDON (Reuters) - The world's first deep sea mining robot sits idle on a British factory floor, waiting to claw up high grade copper and gold from the seabed off Papua New Guinea (PNG) - when a wrangle over terms is solved.
Beyond PNG, in international waters, regulation and royalty terms for mining the planet's subsea wealth have also yet to be finalized. The world waits for the judgment of a United Nations agency based in Jamaica.
"If we can take care of the environment we have a brand new day ahead of us. The marine area beyond national jurisdiction is 50 percent of the Ocean," said Nii Odunton, secretary general of the U.N.'s International Seabed Authority (ISA).
"I believe the grades look good, the abundance looks good, I believe that money will be made," Odunton said from the ISA offices in Kingston.
High-tech advances, depleted easy-to-reach minerals onshore and historically high prices have boosted the idea of mining offshore, where metals can be fifteen times the quality of land deposits.
In Newcastle, the "beasty", as engineer Keith Franklin calls his machine, lies in wait, resembling a submersible tank with four meter wide cutting blades.
Built by Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), it will put Canadian listed Nautilus Minerals (NUS.TO: Quote) on course to become the first company to commercially mine in deep water.
Nautilus' primary resource, Solwara 1, about 1,500 meters underwater, is a Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposit, which forms along hydrothermal vents where mineral-rich fluids spurt from cracks in the ocean crust. Continued...