by Elizabeth Claire Alberts on 17 December 2021
- Delegates of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the multilateral body in charge of deep-sea mining in international waters, met recently in Kingston, Jamaica, and discussed whether to adopt a set of rules — or mining code — to allow deep-sea mining to commence in as little as 18 months.
- Deep-sea mining is a controversial activity that was pushed closer to the horizon when Nauru triggered a “two-year rule” that would theoretically require the ISA to grant an exploitation license within two years, no matter what mining regulations are in place.
- Most ISA member states appeared to be in favor of pushing forward with the mining code, but others questioned the feasibility of this approach, according to observers who attended the meetings.
- The ISA has a dual mandate to give nations equal opportunity and access to mine the seabed as well as to protect the ocean from mining’s harmful effects, but some experts say the ISA’s leadership holds favorable views of mining.
On the morning of Dec. 10, 20 Greenpeace activists jumped onto inflatable boats and motored across the gray waters of an industrial port in Rotterdam, Netherlands. They stopped in front of the red hull of the Hidden Gem, an enormous drill ship measuring 228 meters (748 feet) in length — twice the length of a football field — decked with drilling equipment and rigging that stretched high into the sky. Swiss-owned construction engineering company Allseas is currently renovating the ship to be the world’s first deep-sea mining vessel, aiming to complete work on it next year. However, the Canadian firm that intends to use the ship, The Metals Company (TMC), has yet to secure a license to exploit the seabed.
Scaling the sides of the ship, the activists hung yellow banners emblazoned with bold black letters: “No Deep Sea Mining.” From far away, the banners looked like tiny Post-it notes against the colossal bulk of the vessel.
Later that same day, delegates of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the multilateral body in charge of deep-sea mining in international waters, were meeting in Kingston, Jamaica. During the council meeting, there was a debate on whether to adopt a set of rules that would enable mining to proceed in the deep ocean in as little as 18 months.
While the exploitation stage of deep seabed mining has yet to begin, the Pacific island nation of Nauru, which sponsors a subsidiary of TMC, recently triggered an obscure “two-year rule” embedded in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The move would theoretically require the ISA to issue TMC an exploitation license by July 2023 no matter what regulations were currently in place by then.