Nautilus Minerals, the Canadian company that aims to be one of the first to mine the sea floor on a commercial scale, launched its first mining-ship from the Mawei Shipyards in China in April.
The Deep Sea Nautilus is a 227-m (745-ft) long megaship capable of carrying 35 kt (39,000 st) of ore — plus a 200-person crew and deep-sea mining robots. Nautilus Minerals plans to start gold and copper mining in the Solwara I, a mile-deep site in the coastal waters of Papua New Guinea.
Popular Science reported that in February the company successfully tested its line-up of three robots at depths of 1,500 m (4,900 ft), or about 0.93 miles depth.
Two robots are purpose-built for preparing and pulverizing the metal rich seabed; a third robot will mix the pulverized ore into a slurry, to be pumped up to the Deep Sea Nautilus for further processing.
Nautilus's robots, like this excavator, are just as large as their land counterparts, but fully automated and designed to operate under in deep waters.
Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group, a Chinese copper company, will be the first buyer of Nautilus Minerals' ore. This kind of purchase further indicates ambitions for large-scale deep-sea operations by Chinese firms. Chinese mining companies already hold three mining licenses in the Pacific Ocean from the International Seabed Authority, while railroad equipment maker China Railroad Corporation purchased Soil Mechanics Dynamic, a leading manufacturer of underwater mining and construction equipment.
China's deep-sea mining would enable the nation to maintain sovereign control over strategic resources like copper and rare earth minerals. Activities in international waters would also extend Chinese commercial presence in the global commons as well as further solidify Chinese claims to waters in the East and South China Seas. And, of course, the vast amount of oceangraphic data gathered by deep sea mining could prove useful to military operations like submarine and anti-submarine warfare.
Deep sea exploration has gathered momentum in the past three years, with licences granted off Papua New Guinea’s coastlines, and successful mining off Japan late last year. The International Seabed Authority, which is drawing up a draft mining code, has issued 29 exploration contracts for undersea mining in international waters beyond any national jurisdiction.
In September 2017, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Group, became the first to mine metals from the sea floor using ship-based extraction technology. That operation was conducted at a depth of about 1,600 m (5,250 ft), according to Japan Times.