Locals launch legal action against PNG Gov’t over Nautilus deep sea project

A trio of Nautilus seafloor production tools (SPTs). (Image: Nautilus Minerals)

Nautilus Minerals’ long-in-development Solwara 1 deep sea mining project, located in offshore northeast Papua New Guinea, has found itself the topic of local legal action against the PNG Government.

Critics of the project cite the government’s clandestine approach to the release of environmental documentation, as well as the insufficient nature of the environmental impact statement (EIS) released for the Solwara 1 project, as potentially damaging factors.

Initial requests for increased transparency regarding the project were sent to the PNG Government as long as five years ago; in December 2012, the Deep Sea Mining Campaign sent a letter to PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill requesting the release of key documents pertaining to the Solwara 1 project.

Another group, Mas Kagin Tapani Association (MAKATA), founded in 2010, has also expressed concern over the project’s potential effects on endangered marine turtle populations, commenting as far back as 2012.

“Communities likely to be impacted by the project have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against the PNG Government,” said Peter Bosip, executive director for the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCoR).

“They are seeking information to enable them and all Papua New Guineans to clearly understand whether the project was approved lawfully and what the impacts will be on local communities.”

Lucielle Paru, a member of the Central Province Pressure Group cited Section 51 of the PNG Constitution, which provides right of reasonable access to official documentation to PNG citizens.

“It is a sad condemnation of our national government that we have to force them to share information about this experimental seabed mining project,” Paru said.

Nautilus Minerals chief executive officer Mike Johnston spoke to Australian Mining to provide a response regarding the press release. The CEO defended claims about project information not being freely available, and explained that the company had attended meetings with over 30,000 stakeholders, and attended public hearings every two years for the purpose of licence renewals.

The company has so far held three public hearings; one in Kavieng, one in Port Moresby (PNG’s largest city) and another in Rabual, which was attended by over 300 people according to Johnston.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for people to comment on the project,” he said. “A mining warden was there at all [three] of them and recorded all comments.”

With regards to claims of a lack of transparency surrounding the project’s documentation, Johnston pointed to the company’s environmental impact statement, which has been approved by Papua New Guinea’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority, also known as CEPA:

“I’ve seen some of the claims that have been made about information not being available — the EIS has been on our website since 2009 and we have even translated it into Tok Pisin [aka pidgin],” explained Johnston. “It is also available via CEPA in Port Moresby.”

With regards to environmental concerns, Johnston explained that the project didn’t involve landowners (including traditional landowners) or fishing rights since the company operated over 30 kilometres from the nearest reef.

“It’s a publicity stunt,” the CEO said.