With India keeping an eagle’s eye, China successfully completed its first 118 days of deep sea manned subsmersible mining in the Indian Ocean, saying it found large deposits of precious metals besides discovering different hydrothermal areas.
China’s mission named ‘Jiaolong’ discovered new hydrothermal deep-sea fissures which emit hot water and its findings could lead to further research into resources of seafloor sulfide deposits that contain various metals, said the mission.
These hydrothermal sulfide are deep seabed deposits containing copper, zinc, gold and silver, which were formed after chemical reactions and rest in the seabed in the form of “chimney vents.”
Despite India’s concern for the exploration in its backyard, China has taken prior approval in 2012 to explore 10,000 sq kms of polymetallic sulphide ore deposit for 15 years in the seabed from the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
It has also obtained exclusive rights to mine a 75,000 sq km polymetallic nodule ore deposit in the east Pacific Ocean in 2001. China joined the club of other four developed nationsUS, France, Russia and Japan which have developed deep-water technology.
The Jiaolong mission earlier reached a depth of 7,062 metres in the Pacific in June, 2012, before embarking upon the Indian Ocean deep seabed exploration.
India, which has acquired its deep-sea survey vessal Samudra Ratnakar from South Korea two years ago for the Geological Survey of India but decadees behind in conducting similar deep-sea exploration. Another research vessel Sagar Nidhi is operated by the National Institute of Ocean Technology far low in capability.
China, which has 95% of rare earth metals, is still looking for deep-sea ocean mining for precious metals, raising concerns among the rivals India, Japan and the US. With a lead in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, world’s two major sea routes, China was suspected to have gained edge in terms of ocean navigation knowledge.
But experts brush aside the strategic overtone.
Firstly, China’s deep-sea exploration rights weren’t acquired through any backroom maneuveres but after concerted efforts. "In fact, China’s mining rights in the IOR were given six years after a Chinese government-sponsored expedition team found clues of an enormous belt of poly-metallic sulphides in a deep-sea rift south of Madagascar," says Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) researcher Abhijit Singh.
So, India needs to focus more on its seabed mining capabilities than raising voice against China’s Jiaolong mission. Following the bilateral pact between Japan and India in November 2012, India is hoping to seek Tokyo’s ‘rare earths diplomacy’ to acquire more deep-sea exploration vessels.
India was given a "pioneer investor" status in the Indian Ocean’s mineral exploration by the ISA way back in 2002 to explore in 150,000 sq. km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin but continued inaction and poor scientific vessels forced it to surrender many blocks back to the ISA, pointed out the IDSA researcher.
More than rights, vessels, India will need trained scientists and on-board equipment operators and a focused action plan to get to the minerals at the bottom of the sea, writes Abhijit Singh.