30 May 2013

Three mining companies granted mining exploration licences in Fiji

5:41 pm on 30 May 2013

Three mining companies have been granted licences to explore the deep-sea mining potential in Fiji's Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Fiji Mineral Resources Department has granted a total of 17 exploration licences for Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology or KIOST, a Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, and the Australian firm Bluewater Minerals.

Beverley Tse reports.

The Director of KIOST, Jang Wan Bang, says the company believes there is potential for mining copper, gold, silver and zinc and hopes deep-sea test drilling will confirm that.

"JANG WAN BANG: Through that process we will know how deep its working tide. And then with that we can estimate the recuperable deposits. So that is very, very important for us to find out whether it is commercially viable or not."

Jang Wan Bang says KIOST will begin deep-sea test drilling for sea-floor massive sulphides in about three years time and hopes the company will gain a commercial mining licence in about six years. He says the company acknowledges there may be environmental effects from the deep-sea drilling and says it plans to hold consultation meetings with stakeholders on the matter. The Deep Sea Mining Campaign - an organisation opposing the world's first deep sea mining project by Nautilus Minerals in Papua New Guinea's Bismarck Sea - has great concerns about licences being issued in Fiji. The campaign's co-ordinator, Dr Helen Rosenbaum, says although the licences are for exploration only, the group is worried about the lack of legal security for Fiji's Exclusive Economic Zone.

DR HELEN ROSENBAUM: They've been licensed without any safeguards around environmental protection and about the protection of community health being agreed upon.

Dr Helen Rosenbaum says the campaign finds it interesting one of the companies given the green light to explore Fiji's ocean floor is Nautilus Minerals.

DR HELEN ROSENBAUM: The same company that has produced very shonky science in Papua New Guinea within its own environmental impact statement there and because of the public outcry against the approach taken by Nautilus in Papua New Guinea, it's had to suspend its operations there.

The Director of Fiji's Mineral Resources department, Malakai Finau, says the government will monitor the activities of the mining companies to ensure they comply with its Environmental Management Act which aims to protect the country's EEZ.

MALAKAI FINAU: What we do is we identify the risks and then we require them to mitigate against environmental risks that we identify. And that's one of the ways in which we protect the environment from potential environmental impacts of advanced exploration.

Malakai Finau says an advantage of granting the exploration licences is the government will get updated information on Fiji's sea bed minerals.