In what may help meet India’s need for strategic minerals and amplify its presence in the Indian Ocean, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on Monday signed an agreement with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), for exploration of poly-metallic sulphides (PMS) in the Indian Ocean.
PMS contain iron, copper, zinc, silver, gold and platinum. They are formed from hot magma on the oceanic crust and have attracted attention for their commercial and strategic value.
“ISA earlier approved an application submitted by the ministry of earth sciences for allotment of 10,000 sq. km. area along with a 15-year plan of work for exploration of PMS along Central Indian Ridge (CIR) and Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR) region of the Indian Ocean,” the government said in a statement on Monday.
The ISA has been set up under the Convention on Law of the Sea. In 2011, China signed a similar contract with the ISA for a polymetallic sulphides exploration area of 10,000 square km in the southwest Indian Ocean.
“By signing the 15-year contract, India’s exclusive rights for exploration of PMS in the allotted area in the Indian Ocean will be formalised. Further, it will enhance India’s presence in the Indian Ocean where other players like China, Korea and Germany are active,” the statement added.
India’s territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles from the coast while the exclusive economic zones cover around 2.37 million sq. km where India enjoys exclusive legal rights to utilise all its natural resources.
Earlier, China had objected to India’s hydrocarbon exploration projects in the South China Sea, off the coast of Vietnam.
Experts welcomed the development.
“These are basically new areas consisting of hydrothermal deposits. There is a lack of expertise among Indian institutions, but a certain wing of ministry of earth sciences is carrying out research work for the same. These deposits are required by the country, however, they are not commercially exploitable as on today,” said Naresh Chandra Pant, professor at department of geology, University of Delhi.
In a related development, the Union cabinet on 12 September approved the extension of contract between India’s ministry of earth sciences and the ISA for exploration of polymetallic nodules for a further period of five years (2017-22). The earlier contract was to expire on 24 March 2017.
Polymetallic nodules contain manganese, iron, nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, molybdenum, cadmium, vanadium and titanium.