World’s first seabed gold, copper, silver mine to begin production in 2019

Canada’s Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS), one of the world's first seafloor miners, is on track to start operations at its Solwara 1 gold, copper and silver project off the coast of Papua Guinea in early 2019.

The Toronto-based company, which also is developing another underwater project, off the coast of Mexico, expects to have all its undersea mining tools ready to go by mid-next year, so it can kick-off operations at the Bismarck Sea-based project shortly after, chief executive Mike Johnston told Seeker.com.

World’s first seabed mine to begin production in 2019

The company's seafloor production machines, each the size of a small house, are equipped with massive rock-crushing teeth. (Courtesy of Nautilus Minerals)

But the road hasn’t been one except of bumps for Nautilus. Since first proposed, its Solwara 1 project has met with some opposition mostly from environmentalists, who fear the aquatic ecosystem could be severely affected by mining the seabed.

The company also faced some hurdles long-dragged dispute with the Papua New Guinea government, which it was able to put aside in 2014.  Since then, progress on the project has moved quickly, while competition has begun to flourish.

World’s first seabed mine to begin production in 2019

An auxiliary cutter goes along the sea floor first, removing rough terrain and creating benches for the other machines to work on. It has a boom-mounted cutting head for flexibility. (Courtesy of Nautilus Minerals)

It’s estimated that the United Nations’ International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is in charge of issuing exploration licences to both governments and companies has granted 26 such permits so far.

Countries including New Zealand, Namibia, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands have also granted permits for seabed mineral exploration. The Cook Islands has even undertaken a minerals exploration tender process, but PNG is the only country in the region to have granted a licence for ocean floor mining.