SINGAPORE - Only one company - Ocean Mineral Singapore - has been granted a licence here to conduct exploration studies for deep sea mining of metals such as copper and rare earth minerals, and it has complied with all regulations and guidelines, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).
The company - a subsidiary of Keppel Offshore & Marine - was granted an exploration licence under the Deep Seabed Mining Act 2015.
It has signed an exploration contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) with Singapore as the sponsoring state, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong in a written reply to parliamentary questions on Tuesday (Aug 2).
The possible environmental impacts of deep sea mining had come to the fore during the United Nations Ocean Conference that was held in Lisbon, Portugal in June this year.
Singapore is among a number of countries like Germany, South Korea and the United States, which are in support of it, stating that doing so would be necessary for a transition to clean energy.
The Deep Seabed Mining Act 2015 makes provisions for deep seabed mining and for connected purposes.
The ISA was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the Implementation Agreement to regulate deep seabed mining and related activities in the areas of the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil, which are beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
Mr Gan said the contract was awarded after the ISA was satisfied that Ocean Mineral Singapore had met its qualification criteria, including having financial and technical capabilities to fulfil environmental and other obligations.
Ocean Mineral Singapore collaborated with the Keppel-NUS Corporate Laboratory on two expedition trips in 2015 and 2020 to conduct an environmental baseline study of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean, within an approved area of 58,000 sq km, which is about 80 times the size of Singapore.
The zone, which spans 4.5 million sq km between Hawaii and Mexico, is said to contain about 21 billion tonnes of metals such as copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese as well as rare earth minerals.
Mr Gan noted that Ocean Mineral Singapore has collected and analysed biological, geological and oceanographic data, which has been published in research papers and reported to the ISA.
He added that the company's annual reports, which cover various aspects of the expedition trips, are reviewed by ISA's legal and technical commission.
"(These) are found to be satisfactory and consistent with regulations and guidelines... these findings, together with other environmental studies that are being conducted, contribute to global knowledge on biodiversity and environmental baselines in the CCZ," he noted.
Under the terms of the licence granted under the Deep Seabed Mining Act 2015, a Singapore company must comply with the terms and conditions of the ISA contract, applicable ISA regulations and Unclos.
If a Singapore company fails to do so, MTI has the power to ensure compliance, impose penalties and terminate the licence.
No company or individual has been found guilty of offences under this Act, he added.
Mr Gan said Singapore is a member of the ISA Council, which is developing rules, regulations and procedures (RRPs) for exploitation activities, to ensure that any such activity - if and when permitted - is done without harming the marine environment.
"We fully support the adoption of robust, clear and comprehensive RRPs by the council before any exploitation activity is authorised to commence.
"Singapore is firmly committed to safeguarding the health of the ocean and will ensure that any activities carried out by our companies are consistent with international laws, including the RRPs, adopted by the ISA," he said.
Through a notification that took effect in July last year, the Pacific island of Nauru requested that the ISA finalise its RRPs by July 2023 so that deep sea mining in international waters could go ahead as planned.
This prompted three countries - Fiji, Palau and Samoa, which are near the CCZ - to oppose deep sea mining in international waters during the UN Ocean Conference, stating that doing so could compromise marine biodiversity, which could contribute to the mitigating impacts of climate change.
Chile has called for a 15-year delay for the deadline to finalise ocean mining regulations, with environmentalists arguing that not enough is known about the impacts of seabed mining - such as on habitats and the ocean's ability to trap carbon dioxide.