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Seabed licence conditions to be made public

Saturday 12 February 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Local, National


Seabed licence conditions to be made public
Seabed minerals researchers explore the Cook Islands seafloor. 20013111

Full exploration licence conditions will be made available to the public if companies are awarded a seabed exploration licence.

The Seabed Minerals Authority has made recommendations to the Prime Minister to grant seabed exploration licences to three companies – CIC Limited, CIIC Seabed Resources Limited and Moana Minerals Limited.

The decision now rests with Cabinet who will award or deny the exploration licence.

A government spokesperson said making a decision was on Cabinet’s agenda for its meeting on Tuesday. The spokesperson said information on if the companies were successful will come out after Tuesday’s decision.

Seabed Minerals Commissioner, Alex Herman said if any of the licences were approved and issued, the licence conditions would be made publicly available. 

Herman said the conditions would be entered into the Authority’s register of titles.

“This is in line with the transparent licensing process we have undertaken since we launched this process in October 2020.”

Local environment group, Te Ipukarea Society has pushed for the full conditions of the exploration licence to be made available to the public.

The Society’s technical director Kelvin Passfield said “it sounds promising” that the licence conditions will be made public.

Passfield said the group was still concerned about any legal action the companies might take if they are not awarded the full-scale commercial licence.

“I think as long as we see them (the conditions) after they’re issued, we can take them to task if there are things in there that we don’t like.

“It’s still only exploration so that’s the good thing, they’re (companies) still not allowed to do anything too destructive without an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment).”

Passfield said he expects the licence to be granted by Cabinet.

“I would expect they probably would be, why would it go this far in the process and set up a licencing panel to make recommendations and then not follow the recommendations of the licensing panel.”

It’s a shared view by partially owned Cook Islands government company CIIC Seabed Resources Limited who have been recommended by the 10-member Seabed Minerals Licensing Panel for a licence.

Cook Islands Investment Cooperation’s (CIIC) project manager Eusenio Fatialofa, who is also the general manager of the CIIC Seabed Resources Limited, said the panel was made up of both local and international experts across multiple disciplines. Each representing specialist areas.

“Given the panel recommended that we be granted an exploration license, we are confident that Cabinet will take on their expert recommendation,” Fatialofa said.

“It has been a very rigorous and robust process and we have been working very hard for the last 16 months to get here.

“Working across different time zones and within the confines of the Covid environment has made things a little more challenging for us, however, we’re excited that this part is nearing completion and we’re at the final step now of the licensing process.”

However, Herman said it was not appropriate to presume that licences would be approved by Cabinet.

“The expert panel has made its recommendations, and we will await Cabinet’s decision shortly,” she said.

Public consultation on the exploration licences for CIC Limited, CIIC Seabed Resources Limited and Moana Minerals Limited closed in early December and received five public submissions.

Herman said the public submissions received were taken into account by the licensing panel alongside all of the other scientific and expert advice available.

However, Passfield said he was curious if any concerns were raised by the licensing panel.

“Did they have anything that they were concerned about that the companies have to address or was it all good to go,” he said.

Fatialofa said his company received great feedback from the panel and have worked through and provided the additional requirements requested.

“Overall, it was a very thorough process and a lot of work has been put in by both ourselves and the Seabed Minerals Authority to ensure that things are done correctly,” he said.

The three applicants recommended by the panel have applied for a licence term of five years. Each company has budgeted between $55.4 to $77.7 million to carry out the exploration in the Cook Islands.