In a move to keep pace with Beijing's expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean, India's earth sciences ministry has been ordered to conduct surveys for strategic metals on the southern Indian Ocean seabed.
The field surveys will be the first step towards approaching the International Seabed Authority (ISBA) for a mandate to explore for metals ranging from gold to nickel in the South West Indian Ridge.Strategic metals such as polymetallic sulphide are used in electronic gadgets.
"We have been sanctioned R95 crore to carry out on-field survey at the site and collect preliminary data before we approach the ISBA for deep sea exploration permit in the Indian Ocean this year," said Dr Shailesh Nayak, secretary, earth sciences ministry. "We need to make at least two trips to the area to have sufficient collated data on polymetallic sulphide nodule content in the proposed exploration area," he added.
A Norwegian vessel is in the process of being chartered by the shipping ministry. The deep sea exploration vehicle will reach Cape Town by September so that survey work begins without delay.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation and cabinet secretariat are also part of the inter-ministerial group set up to check Chinese influence in the area and prepare for deep sea exploration for metals in polysulphide nodules.
The initial cost of the project for harvesting polymetallic sulphides — known to exists at 3,500 metres in the tri-junction of South West, South East and Rodrigues ridge of the Indian Ocean — is around R400 crore.
While Chinese have a capacity for manned exploration at 7,000 metres, India had used ROSUB-6000 remote vehicle on board ship Sagar Nidhi to reach around 5,200 metres. The nearest land mass to the Indian Ocean mineral exploration area is Madagascar, located 2,000 km from the southern tip of India.
Official sources said China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association had already begun exploration work in the South West Indian Ridge to tap scarce natural resources.
Indian and Chinese naval presence in this remote area would take the competitive play between two Asian giants to a new dimension.