India's pact with the International Seabed Authority will give it exclusive rights to mine for precious metals in the Indian ocean seabed.
India will sign a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a United Nations organisation, later this year that will give the country exclusive rights to mine for precious metals trapped in magma on the seabed of the Indian Ocean.
Officials say that while the long-term mining projects will fructify only over decades, they will be of immense strategic and commercial value.
The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal by the Earth Sciences Ministry to sign the agreement to mine for so-called polymetallic sulphides over 10,000 sq km around parts of central and southwest Indian ridges in the ocean.
In 2002, the government was granted permission only to explore ocean regions and prospect for precious metals.
Deep seabed polymetallic sulphides (PMS) contain iron, copper, zinc, silver, gold and platinum in variable constitutions and are precipitates of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from the deep interior of the oceanic crust.
These compounds in the ocean ridges have attracted worldwide attention for their long-term commercial and strategic values, said a Ministry statement.
Initial estimated resource of polymetallic nodules on the site retained by India on the central Indian Ocean basin is 380 million tonnes with 0.55 tonnes of cobalt, 4.7 tonnes of nickel, 4.29 tonnes of copper and 92.59 tonnes of manganese.
However, the actual estimates will vary depending on the results of a detailed survey and exploration, coupled with results of test mining of nodules upon developing the mining technology.
A slew of Indian organisations such as the National Institute of Ocean Technology and the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research are involved with these surveys and developing specialised shipping vehicles.
A key technical challenge is being able to develop the specialised drills and extraction-technology required to fish out the metals.
The ISA, under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), governs non-living resources of the seabed of international waters.