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SINGAPORE — Singaporeans and companies based here will have to obtain a licence before mining for minerals in the open sea as the Deep Seabed Mining Bill was passed in Parliament today (12 Feb).

The Bill — which covers the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil beyond territorial waters — will not only protect the marine environment from mining activities on the ocean floor, but is also in line with Singapore’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Speaking in Parliament during the second reading of the Bill today, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said the licensing regime will ensure that companies “undertake deep seabed exploration and extraction activities in a responsible manner, and not cause damage to the marine environment”.

“Penalties will be put in place to serve as deterrence against potential violations or, in the event of non-compliance, to hold errant companies accountable for their actions,” said Mr Lim.

Under the new laws, offenders may be fined up to S$300,000 for an initial offence or jailed for up to three months or both. They may also be subjected to a further fine of no more than S$50,000 every day for a continuing offence, which is capped at S$500,000.

Mr Lim added that to obtain a licence, companies must meet certain conditions, such as having the technological and financial capabilities to carry out their activities and taking necessary measures to minimize damage to the marine environment.

Noting that the deep seabed mining is an emerging industry, Mr Lim said the Bill allows Singapore companies to enter the industry. Singapore can also leverage on its strengths and experience in the offshore oil and gas, marine engineering and trading sectors to capitalise on the growing opportunities within the deep seabed mining industry, he added.

During the debate, Member of Parliament Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) raised questions about the Bill, including the authorities’ capabilities to question and scrutinise applications, and how the monitoring of these companies will be carried out given that these contracts can stretch between 10 and 15 years.

In response, Mr Lim said companies will have to apply for a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and get the Singapore authorities to sponsor the application. On Singapore’s end, an inter-agency taskforce — comprising of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Law and the Attorney General’s Chamber — has also been set up to oversee applications for licenses.

As for monitoring these contracts, Mr Lim said that on top of ISA’s regular monitoring mechanism, which requires contractors to submit annual reports on their exploration activities, companies will also be required to file reports on a regular basis to Singapore authorities.

“We will monitor our sponsor entities on this basis and will intervene if our companies are at risk of non-compliance,” he said.

To date, only one Singapore-based company, Ocean Mineral Singapore, has notified the authorities about their plans to undertake deep seabed exploration, said Mr Lim.

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