The irony of Jamaica's role in deep seabed mining
The International Seabed Authority HQ in Kingston, Jamaica

From the late 1970s to the early 80s Jamaica was front and centre in advocating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to manage the exploitation of the untold mineral riches in the world's high seas and oceans.

The idea, as proposed by Fiji's Ambassador Mr Arvid Pardo, is that the contents of the deep seabed are the common heritage of mankind, and should not redound to the exclusive benefit of rich countries that are ahead in mining technology.

As reward for Jamaica's tireless efforts led by then Foreign Minister Mr Dudley Thompson the UNCLOS was signed in Montego Bay, St James, in December 1982, and Jamaica snagged the biggest prize of all — the location of the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Once the authority began meetings in Kingston, several countries attempted a major coup to have the headquarters relocated to Geneva, Switzerland, arguing that holding meetings twice a year in Kingston was too expensive for delegates.

Jamaica fought the effort hard and with the support of good friends achieved a compromise that the headquarters would remain in Jamaica, but one meeting would be held in Kingston and the other in Geneva.

It is therefore quite ironic to see the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) putting itself at the head of a group, supported by Green Peace, the environmental protection organisation, calling for a moratorium on deep seabed mining.

We in this space are acutely aware of the need to protect the Earth's environment from entities which are only interested in making profits at the expense of everyone else. There is no shortage of these. And it is true that we are still learning about the deep seabed.

At the same time, we caution against knee-jerk reactions to development projects whether on land, sea or air that hinder the advancement of the world and make it harder to defeat the poverty which inflicts developing countries, like Jamaica.

The deep sea, the largest habitat on Earth, has vast potential to enrich mankind if it is mined according to rules and regulations which the Seabed Authority has been working painstakingly over many years to craft and impose.

The deep seabed offers an almost inexhaustible supply of valuable metals such as gold, silver, copper, manganese, cobalt, zinc, and others that will be needed to drive technology in the future.

Despite all the work done so far, the authority has issued only 31 contracts for baseline studies that are hoped will lead to development of the science in the deep sea. Until the ISA issues commercial licences, mining remains illegal in international waters.

Nauru, the smallest island in the world seemingly anxious to see mining started invoked a legal provision in the UN Convention that started a countdown clock for deep sea mining in international waters.

This provision compels the ISA to complete its long, drawn-out deliberations on regulations called the Mining Code which will govern commercial mining of the deep sea floor by mid-2023. In the absence of a mining code, ISA may be forced to accept applications for mining licences without those guidelines.

The PNP's call for a moratorium at this stage appears premature and uninformed.

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