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Ocean Mining

Minerals and metals are essential constituents of a very wide range of industries especially the technology sector. With the growing demands on these natural resources and their scarcity on land, marine exploration has become inevitable. Extraction of these minerals from sediments and structures across the deep sea has been identified at several structural settings including the abyssal plains, hydrothermal vents and seamounts along the mid- ocean ridges. The main commercial resources associated with these settings are manganese nodules (MN) on the abyssal plains, particularly in the Pacific Ocean; seafloor massive sulfides (SMS) at hydrothermal vents, including off the coast of Papua New Guinea; and cobalt-rich crusts (CRC), which are found at seamounts worldwide with the largest deposits in the Pacific Ocean. In addition to metal-rich deposits, there is an interest in extracting methane from gas hydrates associated with marine sediment on continental slopes and rises.
In 1982, International Seabed Authority (ISA) was established in order to regulate human activities on the deep-sea floor. Since its inception, ISA has issued 27 mineral exploration contracts covering a total area of 1.4 million km2 and efforts to develop rules for commercial mining is still ongoing. These exploration contracts have been given to companies from countries including China, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, France and Japan. While some seabed-mining operations are already in place within continental shelf areas, mostly in shallow waters (<200 m), others are still in advanced stages of planning. The first commercial initiative is scheduled to take place in the first quarter of 2019 on the continental shelf of Papua New Guinea and it is expected to target mineral-rich sulfides (i.e. copper, gold and silver) in water depths ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 m.
Omani businessmen, Dr. Mohammed Al-Barwani – chairman of MB Group, is engaged in the first commercial seabed mining activities through the joint venture between Mawarid Mining LLC, wholly owned subsidiary of MB Holdings, and the Canadian Nautilus Minerals Inc which is the mining operator of Solwara 1, offshore Papua New Guinea. Worth mentioning that Mawarid Mining LLC currently holds approximately 28.% of Nautilus Minerals Inc.
Despite a pre-mature understanding of the potential business-scale sea-bed mining opportunities offshore Oman, the recent Oman drilling program which penetrated approximately 5 km of ophiolite sequence (i.e. an oceanic crust that was emplaced on land by obduction processes) offers a globally unique and invaluable source of data to closely examine and analyze the minerals formation processes and apply this knowledge to delineate the offshore minerals exploration campaigns.
Venturing into seabed mining, although it might be commercially attractive and job-creating industry, a careful integrated assessment of its viability needs to be carried out. Significant environmental impact could be associated with the mining operations, which needs to be assessed case by case. The nature, scale and location of the proposed seabed mining activities can have variable degree of impact on biodiversity. Alongside this, seabed mining could cause conflict with other sea users, such as the fishing industry and pharmaceutical firms looking to exploit marine genetic resources.