Final Deep-sea mining regulations slowed by COVID-19 pandemic

November 1, 2021

A group of Latin American and Caribbean countries said the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the process of finalizing regulation governing deep-sea mining.

The delayed negotiations could pose complications for companies looking to begin deep-sea mining operations and hinder their ability to secure financing from investors.

The U.N.'s Kingston, Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) is working on global rules covering sea bed mining, which is not allowed until the regulations are finalized.

Reuters reported that the tiny Pacific state of Nauru has tried to speed up the process by triggering in June a two-year deadline for the rules to be completed. Nauru is a sponsoring state of mining company The Metals Co. subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.

Costa Rica, on behalf of a group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, said "no tangible progress has been achieved" toward adopting regulations and guidelines for mining. Its submission, dated Oct. 13, was published on the ISA website.

The letter said the ISA Council might not be able to finalize and adopt required regulations within the two-year period, adding that delegations are far from reaching agreement on key issues.

Countries represented in the submission included Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

A spokesperson for the ISA said it had no comment on the letter by Costa Rica, but said the ISA's Legal and Technical Commission prepared 10 draft standards and guidelines through remote meetings in 2020 and 2021, and those have been submitted for public consultation for three months.

In July, a group of African nations criticized fast-tracking of negotiations, calling the task of agreeing on regulations by mid-2023 "seemingly insurmountable".

Deep-sea mining involves sucking up potato-sized rocks rich in cobalt, nickel and other battery metals from the Pacific Ocean floor at depths of 4-6 kms.

In September, the ISA said meetings of the ISA Council and ISA Assembly would be held in Kingston from Dec 6 to Dec 10 and Dec 13 to Dec 15, with restrictions on how many delegates can enter the meeting room, due to the pandemic.

Chile and two environmental groups recently requested the meetings be postponed due to the restrictions, in letters seen by Reuters. Chile proposed a postponement of the Council meeting to April 4-8 2022.

Jamaica's COVID-19 measures include a quarantine period even for vaccinated arrivals, and a 50-person limit on meetings, making it difficult for representatives from around the world to attend.

In an Oct 25 letter seen by Reuters, ISA Secretary-General Michael Lodge argued against Chile's proposal and said meeting in December is “both necessary and urgent.”



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