• India
  • Mar 27

Explainer - International Seabed Authority (ISA)

• The government of India has submitted two applications to the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for approval of two plans of work for exploration in the international seabed area of the Indian Ocean.

• India currently holds two contracts for exploration in the Indian Ocean. 

• The first is for exploration for polymetallic nodules in the Central Indian Ocean Basin. It was signed on March 25, 2002, extended in 2017 and 2022, and will expire on March 24, 2027. 

• The second exploration contract signed between ISA and the Indian government is for the exploration for polymetallic sulphides in the Indian Ocean Ridge. It was signed on September 26, 2016 and will expire on September 25, 2031.

• India has applied for two new licences amid increasing competition between major global powers to secure critical minerals.

• One application has been submitted for the exploration for polymetallic sulphides in the Indian Ocean Ridge (Carlsberg Ridge). The application region, located in the Central Indian Ocean, covers a total area of 10,000 km² made up of 100 blocks, each 10 km by 10 km in size, with none exceeding 100 km².

• The second application was submitted for the exploration for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts of the Afanasy-Nikitin Seamount in the Central Indian Ocean. The area of the application covers 3,000 km² and consists of 150 blocks, with none exceeding 20 km² in size.

Deep Ocean Exploration

• Oceans cover 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, providing food and livelihoods for three billion people.

• However, understanding of the oceans remains limited.

• Ocean exploration is about making discoveries, searching for things that are unusual and unexpected. 

• As the first step in the scientific process, the rigorous observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean gained from exploration set the stage for future research and decision-making.

• Through ocean exploration, we collect data and information needed to address both current and emerging science and management needs. 

• Exploration helps to ensure that ocean resources are not just managed, but managed in a sustainable way, so those resources are around for future generations to enjoy. 

• The depth of the seas is a treasure trove for any country. 

• Blessed with a long coastline of over 7,500 km, India draws numerous benefits from the seas. 

• While the huge ports help us in vibrant trade, the blue economy, inclusive of fishing and other activities, is extremely beneficial for India. 

• In addition to the above, the depths of the seas have much more to offer. 

• India’s Exclusive Economic Zone spreads over 2.2 million sq km. 

• The aim of deep ocean exploration is to scientifically explore the deep oceans towards improving our understanding of the blue frontier. 

• The information from this mission will address issues arising from long-term changes in the ocean due to climate change. 

The focus areas cover:

i) The development of technologies for deep-sea exploration and exploitation of living (biodiversity) and non-living (minerals) resources. 

ii) Development of underwater vehicles and underwater robotics. 

iii) Development of ocean climate change advisory services.

iv) Technological innovations and conservation methods for sustainable utilisation of marine bio-resources.

v) Offshore based desalination techniques

vi) Renewable energy generation.

• Joining countries such as China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Russia, India has also taken significant steps in the Deep Ocean Mission. 

• In 2019, the government of India initiated a Rs 8,000-crore plan to explore the depths of the ocean with multidimensional aims including the exploration of metals and minerals. 

• Moreover, India has also been allotted a site of 75,000 sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) by the International Seabed Authority for the exploration of polymetallic nodules (PMN). 

• Just utilising 10 per cent of the PMN reserve available in the area, the country can meet its energy requirements for the next 100 years.

Samudrayaan Project

• Under the Deep Ocean Mission launched by the government of India in September 2021, a manned scientific submersible has been proposed to be developed for deep ocean exploration. The project is named as Samudrayaan.

• Samudrayaan mission is aimed at sending three personnel to 6,000-metre depth in a vehicle called ‘MATSYA 6000’ for the exploration of deep sea resources like minerals.

• ‘MATSYA 6000’ vehicle is designed and developed by National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai under the ministry of earth sciences. It has an endurance of 12 hours under normal operation and 96 hours in case of emergency for human safety. Design of the vehicle is completed and realisation of various components of the vehicle is in progress. 

• Manned submersible facilitates the direct observation by the human in deep ocean in exploring mineral resources rich in nickel, cobalt, rare earths, manganese, etc and collection of samples, which can be used for analysis.

• Under the Mission, deep water Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) namely Ocean Mineral Explorer (OMe 6000) has been deployed for exploration.

• Deep sea mineral exploration was performed using OMe 6000 AUV during December 2022 using research ship Sagar Nidhi at Polymetallic Manganese Nodule (PMN) site at a depth of 5,271 m in the allocated area of International Seabed Authority at Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB). 

• About 14 sq km area has been surveyed with all scientific payloads to generate high resolution seabed features to understand and validate the  source potential at exploration site. 

• About 1 km x 0.5 km area has been mapped using high resolution cameras for quantitative polymetallic manganese nodule resource abundance, distribution and deep-sea biodiversity.

• Apart from the scientific research and technological empowerment as the benefits, this mission has immediate spin-offs in the form of underwater engineering innovations in asset inspection, tourism and promotion of ocean literacy.

• The mission is expected to be realised by the year 2026.

International Seabed Authority (ISA)

• The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is an autonomous international organisation established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to protect the seabed for the shared benefit of humankind. 

• ISA was established on November 16, 1994, upon the entry into force of UNCLOS.

• Its headquarters is situated in Kingston, Jamaica.

• In accordance with UNCLOS, Article 156(2), all States Parties to UNCLOS are members of ISA. 

• ISA has 169 Members, including 168 Member States and the European Union.

• The international seabed area — the part which is under ISA jurisdiction — is the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. The international seabed area represents around 50 per cent of the total area of the world’s oceans.

• Under the UNCLOS, the Area and its mineral resources are designated as the common heritage of humankind.

• ISA is committed to the principle that all nations should benefit from responsible, sustainable and regulated economic activities in the deep seabed, including deep-sea mining and from the potential resources the deep sea holds for a global green transition. 

• ISA has the mandate to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects that may arise from deep-seabed-related activities.

• ISA works to ensure that the voices of all States and stakeholders, including developing States, civil society organisations and all ISA Member States, are effectively heard in discussions around the sustainable development of the deep seabed.

• To date, ISA has approved more than 30 contracts for exploration involving 22 countries and covering more than 1.3 million square kilometers of the seabed. This represents 0.7 percent of the international deep seabed area and 0.3 percent of the world’s oceans.

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