Two applications sponsored by China and the Russian Federation were the first to have been made under the Authority’s regulations on polymetallic sulphides that was adopted in 2010.

Speaking at the Oceans and the Law of the Sea Agenda Item 76(a) at the UN General Assembly’s 66th Session, Secretary-General Odunton told the Assembly that following the approval by the Authority’s Council of the two applications, the ISA and COMRA signed the first every 15-year exploration contract in Beijing on 18 November 2011.  He said the contract with the Russian Federation was being finalised and would be signed in due course.

He said another first for the Authority was the approval of two applications by private sector interests, sponsored by developing States, for plans of work for exploration for polymetallic nodules in the so-called reserved areas by Nauru Ocean Resources Inc., sponsored by the Republic of Nauru and by Tonga Offshore Mining Ltd., sponsored by the Kingdom of Tonga.

He said not only were these the first applications for exploration licences in the International Area by genuine private-sector entities, but they were the first applications to have been made for reserved areas, on the basis of sponsorship by developing States.

Secretary-General Odunton told the Assembly that the original purpose behind the parallel system of exploitation as set out in the Convention was to provide developing States with a practical and realistic means of participating in seabed mining, either in their own right or through the Enterprise.

The effect of the 1994 Agreement was to delay, perhaps indefinitely, the establishment of the Enterprise, leaving developing States with few options to actively participate in seabed mining given the huge financial risks involved. The only realistic option for most developing States therefore was to form partnerships with commercial interests that have access to the financial capital and technology necessary to conduct deep sea exploration.