Seabed Minerals Authority deliberations, from right, Teara Henderson (Licensing and Compliance Officer), Alex Herman (Commissioner) and Derek Johnson (Licensing and Compliance Director). SUPPLIED/21111248
This week was a historic milestone for the Seabed Minerals Authority (Authority). We announced the three seabed minerals companies that met the qualification criteria in the Act, and would be proceeding to the next stage of the exploration licensing process, writes Seabed Minerals Commissioner Alex Herman.
When we received these
applications for exploration licences many months ago, I don’t think we quite
appreciated the amount of work that would go into assessing the applications
and then undertaking the necessary checks and verifications so that we, the
Authority, can be confident that these are suitable companies to carry out
exploration research in our Cook Islands waters.
It has been a complex process,
looking at each of the applicant’s finances, technical expertise and capability,
compliance history, corporate structures, risk management and whether they are
fit and proper persons to hold an exploration licence.
This has involved a lot of
back-and-forth exchanges between the Authority and the applicants, the undertaking
of searches in numerous overseas jurisdictions, the use of due diligence
experts, and advice from many officials.
Our decisions were not made
lightly. We needed to ensure that our decision-making was robust and in line
with our laws. We were also, mindful that a lot of time, effort and resources
went into these applications by the companies.
At the core of our decisions
has been a singular question: Is this in the best interests of the Cook
Expanding on that further,
this includes ensuring that these applicants, if they are granted a licence, will:
meaningful benefits to our Cook Islands people and businesses;
Provide us with valuable
exploration data and information so we can make informed decisions on whether
or not to proceed to harvesting;
Place environmental best
practices at the forefront; and
share the values that we hold in relation to our sacred Marae Moana.
It hasn’t been all smooth
sailing. There have been moments of frustration when deadlines were not met, or
searches did not provide the information we were expecting. That is life and why
it is necessary to have patience and
Looking ahead there is still a
way to go in this licensing process before final decisions are made on whether
to grant or decline exploration licenses. The next step is an important one:
is the opportunity for the public to let us and the applicants know what they
think. Public summaries on each of the applications are available in both
English and Maori, as well as videos from the applicants. Although these were
not a requirement under our laws, we wanted to ensure that our Cook Islands
people understand what these applications are about, and what they mean in
terms of potential future exploration activities and benefits to the Cook
Personally, I am excited to hear what people have to say about these
applications. During our consultations throughout 2021, they have given their
views on what they think future exploration activities should include, for
example requiring observers on board. They have also shared their views on the longer-term
development of this sector, in particular on incorporating SBM (seabed
minerals) into our education curriculum. We have also received many valuable
suggestions for how the Authority can better improve its engagement with
communities, which I have taken on board. We are still
continuing our consultations in Rarotonga, and I look forward to continuing
discussions with our people.
Reflecting on the last couple
of months, I am most grateful for my team that played a critical role in making
these recent decisions. These are passionate Cook Islanders, including some who
returned home from overseas to do their part in this sector. These are the
experts who support our vision for this sector and have shared their wisdom with
us. These are our families and friends who have supported us while we have
spent long hours at the office reviewing documents, having international Zoom calls
and the list goes on.
To my team, keep up the great work. To our people,
know that we are doing our best to ensure we get it right for the benefit of
present and future generations of Cook Islanders.
Let me end by sharing a verse that has helped me
throughout this year and keep the Lord’s providence in mind: Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have
for you," declares The Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm
you, plans to give you hope and a future.”