08/05/2011, 00.00
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China looking for gold and copper at the bottom of the Indian Ocean

Beijing gets the right to explore a 10,000 square kilometre area at the bottom of the sea between Africa and India. It will be able to exploit any deposits found in the future. Rapid deep-sea exploration technology could ignite a new for rush for the seabed.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The International Seabed Authority (ISA), an organisation under the United Nations, has approved China's plan to look for polymetallic sulphide deposits in a 10,000 square kilometre area of seabed in the Indian Ocean, between Africa and India. A contract is expected to be signed in November.

China needs to map the seabed and identify suitable mining spots. Deposits are believed to contain large quantities of metals such as gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper. In exchange, it will be granted a licence for 15 years, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

According to a press release on the ISA's website, similar rights were also awarded last month to two companies in Tonga and Nauru for the Pacific and to the Russian government for the mid-Atlantic ridge.

Deep-sea exploration in international waters still lacks rules, partly because technological development is very recent.

The ISA, established under the authority of Unclos, has 162 member countries. Its mission is to co-ordinate activities on the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdictions.

Deep-see mining is viewed as crucial for future progress and will need specific agreements. India, meanwhile, has already protested because China is starting to prospect almost right off its coast.

China is one of the few nations with deep-sea exploration capabilities. Last week it sent its first manned deep-sea submarine, the Jiaolong (pictured), to a depth of 5,057 metres and it will test 7,000 metres next year.

In 2005, a government-sponsored expedition team found clues that led to the discovery of an enormous belt of polymetallic sulphides, which now can be explored. The deep-sea rift south of Madagascar reaches a depth of 3,000 metres.

Environmentalists are concerned of possible damages by deep-sea mining. In fact, "We should not start mining activities until we have solved the environmental issues. We may need to wait for years, if not decades," said Han Xiqiu, a researcher with the State Oceanic Administration's Second Institute of Oceanography based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang.
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