Buoyed by the success it has achieved in exploring the mineral-rich seabed in around 75,000 square kilometre (sqkm) area in the strategically important Indian Ocean and trying to catch up with China, India has now set eyes on getting exploration rights for another 10,000sqkm area in the southwest Indian Ocean.
India had submitted its application to the International Seabed Authority (ISBA) three months ago and is now waiting for its nod, which may come somewhere in February 2014. ISBA, an international body under the United Nations, administers mineral resources in the international seas and regulates deep-sea mining activities.
“We have already filed our claim to ISBA. We are asking for exploration of hydro sulphides (polymetallic sulphides) in about 10,000sqkm area in the south-west Indian Ocean. Nobody else has looked in that particular area. Our team gave a presentation on our application to ISA at their headquarters (Jamaica) on July 9,” Shailesh Nayak, secretary, ministry of earth sciences, told dna.
“However, the decision on India’s application could not be reached during this meeting of the ISBA due to paucity of time. The decision could now come by February,” said Nayak.
The earth sciences secretary explained that when India in 2002 had got exploration licence for the Central Indian Ocean, no one had asked for that area. The licence would expire in 2017.
“Now also we are asking for areas that are largely unexplored as we know their potential,” Nayak said.
India, one of the pioneers of research in this field, already has exploration rights for polymetallic nodules in around 75,000sqkm area in the Indian Ocean. These nodules apparently contain many valuable minerals such as copper, zinc, gold, silver and nickel.
MoES got several encouraging results during the exploration but Nayak refused to share details stating that it cannot be done due to commercial competitive reasons.
“We have the exploration licence till 2017 and after that we have to see and decide if we want to exploit it. If yes, then we will seek exploitation licence,” Nayak added. However, India is not alone.
Countries such as France, Russia, Japan and China have been among the first few countries that won licences to explore minerals way back in 2001. The US, Germany and Japan have been among the pioneers in the work on sea exploration. China has been making big strides in deep-sea mining activities.
China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association secured rights to explore for polymetallic nodules in the northeast Pacific in 2001, followed by rights to explore polymetallic sulphides in the southwest Indian Ocean two years ago.
As per reports, it recently also got rights for exploration in Western Pacific area too. When China, in 2011, got licence to explore the southwest Indian Ocean region, alarm bells rang loud in the Indian security establishment which felt that China could strengthen its military presence in area on the pretext of exploration contract and also collect data on huge mineral-rich region in India’s backyard.
With the fast-depleting mineral resources and increasing prices of minerals, discovery of new minerals in the sea is of utmost importance for countries like India and China, which together account for nearly one third of the world population.