Seabed mining gets impetus in IORA Blue Economy initiatives - Hindustan Times

Seabed mining gets impetus in IORA Blue Economy initiatives

ByHindustan Times
Apr 10, 2022 01:21 PM IST

The piece has been authored by Vijay Sakhuja is consultant, Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi.

The advancement of Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean region has received a boost. In March 2022, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the multilateral body which is at the helm of deep-sea mining in international waters, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to “foster their collaboration in areas of common interest”.

It is useful to mention that Blue Economy has been identified as a special focus area of the IORA.(Bloomberg)
It is useful to mention that Blue Economy has been identified as a special focus area of the IORA.(Bloomberg)

Michael W. Lodge, the secretary-general of the ISA and Salman al Farisi, the secretary-general of the IORA are confident that the MoU can potentially trigger strong cooperation between ISA and IORA in the development of Blue Economy in the region. The two leaders are optimistic that the IORA member-States would “benefit fully from the sustainable development of deep-seabed minerals” in the international seabed area (the Area).

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It is useful to mention that Blue Economy has been identified as a special focus area of the IORA. In particular, seabed mining finds reference among the sixfpriority pillars of Blue Economy i.e. (a) fisheries and aquaculture; (b) renewable ocean energy; (c) seaports and shipping; (d) offshore hydrocarbons and seabed minerals; (e) marine biotechnology, research and development; and (f) tourism.


Furthermore, the IORA Working Group on Blue Economy under IORA Action Plan 2017 has called for developing appropriate mechanisms of cooperation for sustainable development of Blue Economy sectors, including training and capacity building programmes. IORA’s commitment to promote development of Blue Economy and the establishment of the Blue Economy Working Group (WGBE) are indeed noteworthy initiatives. The majority of the member-States have put out national policies on Blue Economy and there are concerted efforts underway to build national and regional capacities through partnership programmes.


Ever since the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the ISA mandate includes capacity-building focused on training of nationals of developing countries and personnel for the future enterprise. It has been conceptualising and delivering on its mandate through a variety of programmes and initiatives to strengthen the capacities of developing and technologically less developed States. In this context, the more recent 2020 ISA supported workshop on “capacity development, resources and needs assessment” merits mention and is meant to contribute to the ISA’s High-Level Action Plan to “undertake regular assessment of the effectiveness and relevance of capacity-building programmes and initiatives implemented by ISA”.


There are 167 States who are members to the 1982 UNCLOS and of these 147 are States parties to the 1994 Agreement relating to the Deep Seabed (Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the 1982 UNCLOS). Majority of the IORA member-States are its members; however their technical knowledge and human-material infrastructure capacities to harness the deep seabed mineral wealth is limited. 


The IORA-ISA MoU envisages “joint activities in the fields of capacity-building related to marine scientific research (MSR), seabed exploration, development of legal frameworks and policy formulation, environmental management planning, and joint activities for increased information and data sharing” Many of the IORA member-States have invested in MSR but in a limited way; Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is high in their priority areas but do not possess the requisite tools for its development ; meanwhile some States have been forthcoming in sharing scientific data particularly in the context of fisheries development.

The IORA also notes that there are “major constraints in the commercialisation” of seabed mining in the Indian Ocean given that the Member States have limited information on the resources in their EEZ as also they lack technical-technological-human resource capacity to explore-mine seabed minerals.

In the above context, the IORA-ISA initiative can be supported by India, it being one of the pioneer country (status of a pioneer investor was awarded in 1987) and vigorously contributes to the work of both the ISA and the IORS. It is one of the top 8-countries / contractors and is pursuing a long–term programme on exploration and utilisation of Polymetallic Nodules. India’s Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) envisages developing technologies for mining of deep-sea resources like Polymetallic nodules from the Central Indian Ocean at a water depth of 5,500 meters. The DOM also envisions national and international collaboration in education, research and excellence in the field of marine science and ocean science and ocean technology.

A new opportunity for collaboration to strengthen partnership among the IORA Member States has arisen. The IORA-ISA MoU will surely trigger interest among the member-States to engage in the sustainable development of seabed resources. India sees IORA-ISA initiative critical to the needs of the member-States and can support individual and collective capacities building in the Indian Ocean region.


A quick beginning can be made by bringing together experts, policymakers, think tanks and universities from IORA Member States and promote legal capacities development, assistance in formulating national policy and legislative frameworks that can support seabed mining in the Area.

The study can be accessed here

(The piece has been authored by Vijay Sakhuja is consultant, Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi)

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