Nautilus deep sea mining plans in doubt over vessel conflict

Nautilus Minerals’ production support vessel (PSV) has been acquired by Indian company MDL Energy in a blow to Nautilus’ deep-sea mining plans.

The in-construction PSV is a cornerstone of the Canadian company’s plans for its Solwara 1 deep sea mining project in Papua New Guinea.

The Solwara 1 project is an underwater mining project using heavy vehicles called seafloor production tools (SPTs) for sulphide extraction (primarily gold, silver and copper) from the Bismarck Sea, offshore Papua New Guinea.

The PSV is primarily designed to support Nautilus’ mining operations by collecting the extracted materials at the water’s surface via pumps running up from the seabed.

In July 2018, the owner of the Chinese shipyard where the PSV is being built announced that it had rescinded its shipbuilding contract with Nautilus-contracted Marine Assets Corporation (MAC) due to the latter defaulting on its payments, throwing the vessel’s future into doubt.

On November 27, MDL subsidiary Ocean Energy Ventures (OEV) then released a public statement detailing its acquisition of the PSV alongside partner Quippo Oil and Gas.

OEV redubbed the vessel as the Amaya Explorer and stated that its discussions regarding the charter of the ship to Nautilus were terminated on October 5. OEV alleges that it instructed Nautilus to remove its equipment from the vessel in order for OEV to repurpose it.

“We are delighted to have concluded the contract for the purchase of Fujian Mawei hull MW301-1,” said MDL chief executive officer Kulpreet Sahni. “The vessel hull fits well with our future plans and we are excited about this first step on a new journey for us.”

Nautilus responded on December 2 explaining that it was discussing a loan extension facility with Deep Sea Mining Finance to enable the acquisition of the vessel but that there could be “no assurances that such discussions will be successful”.

Environmental campaign groups critical of the Solwara 1 project, such as Syndey-based Deep Sea Mining Campaign and Ottawa-based Mining Watch Canada, have subsequently responded to the news of Nautilus’ difficulties as a win for the Bismarck Sea and local communities in PNG.

“Nautilus’ Production Support Vessel was the centre piece of their model of operation,” said Deep Sea Mining Campaign coordinator Helen Rosenbaum.

“Without the PSV it’s difficult to see Nautilus ever developing its Solwara 1 project.  Given Nautilus’ dire financial circumstances it is fair to say the game is over.”

Nautilus has vociferously defended previous criticisms of the project’s environmental viability.

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