Seabed Assembly Completes Debate of Annual Report

The Assembly of the International Seabed Authority yesterday (24 July) concluded its consideration of the Secretary-General’s annual report in Kingston this morning hearing comments from twelve delegations and three observers on many aspects of its topics.

Secretary-General Nii Allotey Odunton (Ghana), presented the report which covers the work of the Authority since the last session, to the Assembly yesterday.  It was the highlight of the 166-member body’s agenda during its twentieth anniversary session.

France, Italy and Jamaica underscored the importance of formulating draft procedures for the extension of exploration contracts to ensure effective preservation of the marine environment. Jamaica said consideration should be given to the number of times a contract could be extended for a five-year period. (The Council of the Authority has requested the Legal and Technical Commission to urgently formulate procedures and criteria for the extension of exploration contracts.)

Responding to comments made during the two-day discussion of his report, the Secretary-General referred to planned series of taxonomic exchange workshops on the megafauna, macrofauna and meiofauna in the contract areas.  Another workshop will assist contractors to prepare estimates of mineable areas within exploration areas, he said.

Several delegations raised the matter of the periodic review which the Assembly was required to undertake every five years under Article 154 of the Convention. Kenya made an urgent call for the review to be carried out, given the imminent approach of commercial mining in the Area. Brazil agreed that the review could not be postponed and said that the Assembly should prepare the terms of reference for the matter to be approached in a structured, systematic manner. The United Kingdom endorsed the idea of a structured approach. Germany also saw merit in undertaking the review, but not to the detriment of the other more urgent matters before the Authority at this time.  (This periodic review is a systematic assessment of the manner in which the international regime of the Area established under the Convention has operated in practice). 

Cuba, Italy, Spain and Vanuatu all shared the view that developing regulations for the exploitation of deep seabed minerals should be a priority task on the Authority’s agenda. Cook Islands said the exploitation code would “lead us all into the next exciting phase of the work of the Authority.”

Capacity development and sensitization seminars

On capacity development, training and outreach, South Africa welcomed the planned workshop to consider the application of a resource classification system for polymetallic nodules deposits to be held in India later this year. Kenya noted several training opportunities to be provided by contractors as part of their obligation for exploration in the Area and said it looked forward to participating in these programmes. 
  
France joined the call made yesterday by other delegations for more sensitization sessions to be held to build awareness of the Authority’s work. The representative of Mexico said that the seminar held in his country last November had been useful and informative. He added that his government was considering making an application for a plan of work for exploration activities in the very near future and would keep the secretariat informed on its progress.

Uganda hoped that steps would be taken towards the establishment of a museum at the Authority’s headquarters, as proposed by the Secretary-General. The representative said his delegation looked forward to hearing the concept paper from the Secretary-General on the matter at the next session. He noted that Japan had promised to donate an exhibit and encouraged other contractors to do likewise.

The upgrading of the Authority’s website and the launch of a mobile application for use on tablets and mobile devices were welcomed by a number of delegations. France said the upgraded system would increase the visibility of the Authority. The Philippines said that members of the Legal and Technical Commission would now be able to review contractors’ annual reports and applications for plans of work ahead of their meetings.

Members cited the protection of the marine environment as an ongoing priority for the Authority. Kiribati called for the speedy implementation of environmental management plan in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.

Several members welcomed Niger as the most recent member State to become party to the Convention, and joined the Secretary-General’s call for members who had not yet ratified the 1994 Agreement to do so in the near future. Brazil suggested that members should make efforts within their regional groups to encourage such States to become fully fledged members.

Secretary-General’s response

In his response to the comments from members, the Secretary-General spoke first about the proposed museum of the Authority. He expressed his appreciation to Japan for its promised donation of an exhibit and assured the representative that the gift would be appropriately displayed in the offices of the Authority until it took up its rightful place in the museum in the future. The Secretary-General said he would prepare a concept paper outlining the objectives of the museum as requested by the Council, to be presented at the next session in time for its consideration for the 2017-2018 budget.

The Secretary-General thanked the representative of France for his suggestion about advocating for topics on the law of the sea to be included in the curriculum at international law schools. He said the secretariat would contact various institutions and report back to the members at the next session.

With regard to sensitization seminars, the Secretary-General said that the secretariat had already received correspondence from several States requesting seminars in their countries. He said the secretariat aimed to conduct at least one seminar each year, always taking into account the goal of regional participation.

Two workshops were planned for the current year. The first would take place in India to consider the application of a resource classification system for polymetallic nodules. The workshop would be held in conjunction with mineral classification experts, scientists and engineers, and will assist contractors to estimate mineable areas within their exploration areas.

The Secretary-General noted that at a meeting between the Authority and contractors in January 2012, all contractors agreed that standardization of megafauna, macrofauna and meiofauna was required as a part of environmental baseline data. They acknowledged they would benefit from assistance and training from expert taxonomists.  This year, a workshop was planned on macrofauna.  The Secretary-General said as a result of the workshops, the Legal and Technical Commission would have access to valuable information to help its consideration of criteria to be applied to extensions of contracts.

Observers

After the response of the Secretary-General, three observers to the Authority made brief statements. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) aligned itself with those delegations which called for the development of environmental management plans in areas where exploration activities were taking place.  The representative agreed with the need to establish standards in relation to taxonomy and to expand the database of the Authority to make it as useful, scientifically relevant and transparent as possible.  She cited the International network for scientific investigation of deep-sea ecosystems (INDEEP) and Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) as two sources which could offer broad expertise on deep sea ecosystems.

The Greenpeace International representative pointed to two gaps in international law and regulation which had to be filled by the time the exploitation regulations were in place. The first was the issue of liability and redress in relation to damage occurring as a result of seabed mining. The other gap to be addressed was the issue of disposal of waste at sea. 

Deep Sea Conservation Coalition pointed out that global consensus had already been achieved on a number of measures governing deep sea fisheries, which might be relevant to the management of deep seabed mining. The representative said that one of the overarching objectives of establishing international standards on the management of activities in the seabed must be the avoidance of damage to the ecosystem. He added that the Authority should aim at consistency with other regulatory bodies.

When it meets this afternoon, the Assembly will elect members to fill vacancies on the 36-member Council, in accordance with article 161 of the Convention, and will adopt the budget of the Authority for the financial period 2015-2016. It is also expected to adopt draft decisions to approve amendments to the regulations on polymetallic nodules and polymetallic sulphides.