Seabed Authority seeks to project itself

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 25, 2017

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The International Seabed Authority (ISA) on Friday held a public forum to promote its presence and value in Jamaica and its relevance to the region.

The three-hour-long session held at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, was also an opportunity for several ISA contractors, who are in the island for workshop this week, to share speak on deep sea mining. ISA contractors engage in exploration towards commercial activities in deep sea mining.

Secretary General of the ISA, Michael Lodge, said that there has been very little interest in the region on pursuing opportunities in deep sea mining, but that this could either be because the territory is not mineral rich or because of a lack of awareness of those opportunities.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer, Michelle Walker, who is a member of the Legal and Technical Commission of the ISA, explained that although the areas of exploration, as defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is entirely outside of Jamaican waters, there are still benefits for the country and the region.

“We are the only developing country in the world that hosts an international organisation. It will never happen again — the political dynamics are such that every time that the opportunity comes up now for a new international organisation, the powerful countries make sure that it is hosted in Geneva, or New York, or anywhere like that,” she said, noting that it was fortunate for Jamaica that in 1980s there was more reception to the idea that a developing country should have the opportunity to be the host country for an international organisation such as the ISA.

“That's so huge, and we continuously fail to appreciate how special it is and how important it is for us to maintain this organisation. The benefits for us now as a country is to, in a more concrete way, take advantage of the training opportunities [in] deep seabed mining,” she said, but cautioned that this is an extremely expensive undertaking that necessitates partnering with other countries.

“No developing country can do this by themselves. The Pacific Islands states which have done so have done it by either sponsoring a private entity (as a sponsoring state), or you can actually allow a corporate entity to incorporate in your country, and engage in the activity,” she explained. Countries that have taken this route include Singapore and the Cook Islands. She said that in the future, Jamaica could partner with a country such as Brazil as part of a consortium.

Walker pointed out that until that time, Jamaica can take advantage of the more immediate benefit, which comes through contractor training opportunities.

“There are excellent training opportunities for us [in] highly technical areas [such as] marine science, biology, geology…most of the training is while the contractors are out in the area doing research, or sometimes they offer PhDs or master's programmes, but sometimes they also offer short courses,” she informed. These offers are generally advertised on the ISA's website. The Authority has 15-year agreements with 27 contractors to conduct exploration studies, 16 representatives of which are in the island for a two-day workshop, hosted by the ISA in Kingston.

The Authority is located at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston and has responsibility for organising and regulating all mineral-related activities that take place in the international seabed area.

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