Vanuatu world leader on best practice Deep Sea Mining decision-making

Thursday 7 November 2013

Around the Pacific the feverish interest in deep sea mining has given rise to an equally intense opposition to this unprecedented extractive industry.

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator, Deep Sea Mining campaign said “With over 1.5 million square kilometres of Pacific Ocean floor under exploration leasehold around the Pacific, communities fear their governments will rush into granting licences before there has been open debate and before scientific studies have been able to assess the risks to livelihoods, health and ecosystems.”[1]

The world’s first license to operate a deep sea mine has been granted in PNG by the former Somare Government to Canadian company Nautilus Inc for its Solwara 1 mine.

“The fact that this license was granted without the Free Prior and Informed Consent[2] of the communities that will be affected has created a storm of public protest. This was undoubtedly a significant factor in Nautilus’ decision to suspend operations a year ago,” stated Ms Rosenbaum.

Community leaders are now pressuring PNG PM O’Neill to not allow Nautilus to resume its operations or pay the company the money a recent arbitration hearing ruled it should.[3][4][5]

Oigen Schultz, Director of Zero Inc, a community organisation in New Ireland Province said, “Local communities have NOT sanctioned the Solwara 1 project. No one knows what the impacts of this form of mining will be.”

“We are calling for our PNG National Government to place a moratorium on sea bed mining until New Ireland Province communities have provided their consent to the mine’s go-ahead.”

In stark contrast to the PNG Government, the Vanuatu Government is embarking on a national deep sea mining consultation process. Under the oversight of the Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, Minister for Land and Natural Resources, the Vanuatu national consultations aim to model best practice Public Participation in Deep Sea Mining Decision-Making.”

The process will draw on the principles and approaches embedded in Free Prior and Informed Consent and the Precautionary Principle[6]. It will be open and transparent and will ensure that if any licences are awarded it is with the consent of Vanuatu’s civil society and on the basis of independently verified science-based risk assessments.

Wence Magun, National Coordinator for the Madang based Mas Kagin Tapani said “We call on PM O’Neil and the PNG Government to WAKE UP and to now commit to a National PNG consultation similar to Vanuatu’s.”

“Vanuatu is showing PNG how a Government who truly respects the concerns of its citizens should go about decision making for this experimental form of mining.”

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum (Australia), hrose[at] +61 413 201 793
Oigen Schultz, (New Ireland Province PNG)  schulzee86[at] +675 7250 9562
Wences Magun (Madang, Papua New Guinea), magun.wences[at], +675 7195 9665

For comments from Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, Minister of Lands and Environment, Vanuatu please contact: rregenvanu[at]




[1] Being a new form of mining there is a high level of uncertainty about the risks DSM poses to marine environments and communities. What is certain is that impacts will be associated with each step of the mining process.  The DSM campaign’s two comprehensive reports  highlight many errors and omissions in the Solwara 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This means that we don’t yet understand the risks posed to coastal communities.

[2] Free Prior and Informed Consent
FPIC is recognized in many international law instruments. Of these, the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007) provides one of the clearest articulations of FPIC.  Its key elements are defined as:
Free  – Consent is free from force, intimidation, manipulation, coercion or pressure by any government or company.
Prior  – Consent is obtained prior to government authorisations, allocation of exploration permits, operating licences etc.
Informed  – all the relevant information must be presented to communities and civil society in an accurate, and accessible manner independent of vested interests
Consent  – requires that communities and civil society have the right to say “Yes” or “No” to the project in accordance with community decision-making processes and at each stage of a project. It means that civil society can withhold consent or can determine the conditions for consent if it is given

[3] ‘Govt must defend sovereignty over seabed mining’, media release, from ACT NOW! and Bismarck Ramu Group, 17 October 2013,

[4] ‘Nautilus Minerals deal benefits only investors’, The National, Papua New Guinea, 16 October 2013

[5] ‘Government wrong to alow Nautilus leader says’, The National, Papua New Guinea, 10 October 2013

[6] The Precautionary Principle
The United Nations World Charter For Nature (1982) states that:  
activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature, and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed.  

Unlike later interpretations, this definition of the PP prioritises the protection of the well being of communities and the environment. It clearly identifies that the developer bears responsibility for proving that a development it is not harmful.

Implicit in this principle is the social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk.