Collapse of PNG deep-sea mining venture sparks calls for moratorium

Papua New Guinea out of pocket $157m from failed attempt at mining material from deep-sea vents as opponents point to environmental risk.


By Ben Doherty / The Guardian


A machine taking sediment samples as part of deep-sea mining operations off the PNG coast. Photograph: Nautilus minerals


The “total failure” of PNG’s controversial deep sea mining project Solwara 1 has spurred calls for a Pacific-wide moratorium on seabed mining for a decade.

The company behind Solwara 1, Nautilus, has gone into administration, with major creditors seeking a restructure to recoup hundreds of millions sunk into the controversial project.

The Solwara 1 project (Solwara is pidgin for ‘salt water’) planned to mine mineral-rich hydrothermal vents, formed by plumes of hot, acidic, mineral-rich water on the floor of the Bismarck Sea. But the project has met with fierce community resistance, legal challenges, and continued funding difficulties.

The PNG government sunk more than 375m Kina (AUD$157m) into the project, money it is attempting, but appears unlikely, to recoup. The project has been “a total failure” prime minister James Marape said.


Deep-sea mining to turn oceans into ‘new industrial frontier’


Deepsea mining has proven contentious wherever it has been proposed and trialled across the world.

Proponents argue deep-sea mining could yield far superior ore to land mining – in silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc – with little, if any, waste product. The industry is potentially worth billions of dollars and could assist the transition to a renewable energy economy, supplying raw materials for key technologies such as batteries, computers and phones. Different mining methods exist, but most involve using converted terrestrial mining machinery to excavate materials from polymetallic nodules or hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, at depths of up to 6000 metres, then drawing a seawater slurry to ships on the surface. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.


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