BEIJING – China became the first country approved by the International Seabed Authority to look for polymetallic sulphide deposits in the Southwest Indian Ridge, authorities said.
“The body approved the application from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA) to explore an area of the ridge for 15 years, covering about 10,000 square kilometers, on July 22,” Wang Fei, deputy director general of the State Oceanic Administration and president of COMRA, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
He added that China will enjoy priority in offshore mining for commercial purposes in the approved area when conditions are mature.
The application was submitted to the seabed authority, a United Nations body that oversees mining in international waters, on May 7 last year.
Polymetallic sulphides, a recently discovered mineral source, are found around volcanic springs on the seabed and are thought to contain larger quantities of metals, especially gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper.
The seabed authority estimates one polymetallic sulphide deposit could hold as much as 110 million tons of metal ore. However, only about 5 percent of 60,000 kilometers of oceanic ridges, where most deposits are thought to lie, have been surveyed in any detail.
“The refined metals from the deposits will help China meet the increasing demand for mineral resources from rapid economic development,” said Jin Jiancai, secretary-general of COMRA.
The approval to look for polymetallic sulphides in an international deep seabed area will help China store mineral resources, learn more about the deep-sea environment and enhance technologies for deep-sea mining and exploration, he added.
According to the seabed authority, it will sign a 15-year contract with China in November. Reports on emergency responses and environmental protection will be prepared in the coming three months, Jin said.
After eight years of exploration, China must give up exploration rights on 50 percent of the approved area and, after 10 years, will only be allowed to explore 2,500 sq km.
“So making clear the location of the mineral resources in the approved area, especially polymetallic sulphide deposits, is very important to guarantee we keep the most treasured area,” Jin said.
He added the average depth of the approved area is about 3,000 meters.
With Chinese submersible Jiaolong recently completing a dive of 5,188 meters, the country may face few obstacles in deep-sea exploration.
“Jiaolong will give scope to its ability when it succeeds in diving 7,000 meters next year,” Jin said, adding that China also has its own deep-sea exploration equipment and facilities.
COMRA signed a 15-year contract in 2001 with the seabed authority to explore 150,000 sq km of seabed for polymetallic nodules, small rocks containing metal ore. The area has now been reduced to 75,000 sq km, as stated in the contract.
Jiaolong’s 5,188-meter dive was carried out in that area.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said on Tuesday that China’s seabed exploration will help the country further understand and utilize international seabed resources and serve the common interests of mankind.
“(The activities) will be conducive to improving scientific knowledge of deep-sea resources and effectively protecting the seabed environment,” he said. “According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, international seabed areas and their resources are the commonly inherited property of mankind.”
The seabed authority approved work plans submitted by four entities on July 19.
Two entities, sponsored by Nauru and Tonga respectively, were approved for exploration for nodules in the reserved area of the Clarion-Clipperton Fractured Zone.
The other was Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, which submitted an application on Dec 24 last year to search for polymetallic sulphides in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Xinhua contributed to this story.