Jamaica in seabed mining: It's been a long time coming

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

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Wherever in the cosmos Mr Arvid Pardo, the late Maltese diplomat who piloted the concept of the Earth's seas and oceans as being the common heritage of mankind, is, he would be extremely pleased with Jamaica, once again.

On December 10, 1982, in the combined ballrooms of the Holiday Inn Hotel in the north coast resort city of Montego Bay, visionary nations of the world signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), after a long and tortuous process.

Among the dignitaries in Montego Bay to witness the historic occasion was Arvid Pardo, known as the father of the law of the sea. On August 17, 1967, as Malta's permanent representative to the United Nations, Mr Pardo submitted a request for the inclusion of a note verbale, a supplementary item on the agenda of the 22nd session of the General Assembly.

The initiative requested the General Assembly to consider the formulation of an international treaty and an international agency to regulate activities on the deep seabed, thereby establishing its contents as the common heritage of mankind.

The Convention came into force in 1994, a year after Guyana became the 60th nation to ratify the treaty. Jamaica had fought hard for the Convention which, as of June 2016, has been joined by 167 countries and the European Union.

Notably, the United States — the world's mightiest maritime power — is not a signatory, despite forcing many significant changes to the original draft terms, including Pardo's concept of the minerals of the deep seabed belonging in common to all mankind.

Mr Pardo, who died in 1999, was not here to see the construction and opening in February 1983 of the Jamaica Conference Centre, which was conceived to be the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the UN body which was supposed to implement the Convention.

Nor is he, of course, around to witness the announcement yesterday that the Jamaican Government has given approval for the island to enter the emerging industry of deep seabed mining (DSM), through its sponsorship of Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited (BMJ), a Jamaican registered company.

No one would have any doubt about how pleased Mr Pardo would have been to see this development, which represents his core ideal, that developing countries should not be left out as the richer nations exploit the vast mineral treasures of the sea.

“This progressive and visionary step will see Jamaica join a select group of 20 countries including the UK, Germany, China, Korea, India and Belgium in deep seabed mining activities,” said a press statement from the Foreign Ministry which spearheads Jamaica's participation in the UNCLOS.

The Government of Jamaica and Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited will be filing an application with the ISA for an exploration licence for polymetallic nodules in international waters, mainly focusing on those containing high concentrations of nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese, among others, which are required to produce high-tech applications such as smartphones, and green technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric storage batteries.

The deep seabed – the area of the ocean below 200 metres outside of national waters covering about 65 per cent of the Earth's surface, is said to be pivotal to global growth and the future sustenance of mankind.

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