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Seabed Mineral Wealth and Its Security by Rear Admiral S Kulshrestha

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Author: Rear Admiral Dr S Kulshrestha (Retd)
Within its EEZ, a coastal state has sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing natural living and non-living resources of the waters superjacent to the seabed and its subsoil. Two essential components of effective EEZ security management comprise surveillance and deterrence. For such an extensive requirement a cooperative, synergetic and system of systems approach between various agencies involved would be paramount.

The Indian Ocean Region’s states are very rich in mineral resources; they contain about 80 per cent of the world’s diamond, 40 per cent of gold and 60 per cent of uranium deposits. These estimates may well be dwarfed by the exploration and discoveries in the mineral rich seabed of their extensive EEZs. India’s EEZ comprises of about 2.172 million km along and around its coastline of about 7,500 km. Further, India is likely to gain 1.5 million sq km of EEZ as it has placed survey details pertaining to the extent of its continental shelf before the International Seabed Authority (ISBA). The continental shelf area of India is approximately 3,80,000 sq km and the shelf area of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is about  30,000 sq km. This implies that more than 75 per cent of the EEZ lies beyond the depth of 200 meters. On the western coast of Maharashtra, the shelf extends to about 180 nautical miles, whereas on the eastern coast it is much narrower.

Major issues relating to maritime security in the Indian Ocean range from security of the energy arteries, to piracy, drug and human trafficking, illegal fishing, gunrunning, environmental issues and terrorism. However, the aim of this article is to lay emphasis on the seabed mineral resources, which have been less talked about in the media and to bring out gaps in the comprehensive security of the Indian EEZ.

Mapping The EEZ

Indian agencies had carried out reconnaissance mapping of the equivalent of 85.7 per cent of offshore area within the territorial waters (TW) and about 98 per cent  of the seabed within the EEZ by March 2011. The collection of offshore data is carried out by many agencies such as the Geological Survey of India (GSI), Indian Navy, ONGC, National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and departments of Ministry of Earth Sciences. The collection of data is carried out by the agencies for scientific, economic and strategic purposes. The main task of GSI is seabed mapping and exploration of non-living resources in the EEZ and in international waters. GSI has till date surveyed 18,48,318 sq km out of 18,64,900 sq km in the EEZ beyond the territorial waters. It has surveyed 19,76,798 sq km (EEZ +TW) out of a total of 20,14,900 sq km (EEZ +TW).

Marine Mineral Wealth

Placer Deposits: These are accumulation of valuable minerals formed by gravity during sedimentary processes, the survey has found two promising zones namely,  210 sq km on the west coast (off Aleppy-Quilon, Trivandrum-Kanyakumari and Ratnagiri) and 923 sq km on the east coast (off Andhra and Orissa coast).

Coming to the deterrence capability in the EEZ, it has to be a non-military option during peacetime, which brings the discussion to deployment of Non-lethal Weapons (NLW) and the need to develop them for the EEZ environment. Conflicts in the EEZ are definitely going to be unconventional and it would be difficult to distinguish the adversary from the neutrals or friendly vessels. This may lead to conflicts where use of lethal weapons may not be permissible

Relict Marine Sand: Survey of various blocks off Kollam, Ponnani, Beypore, Chavakkad etc have confirmed the presence of relict sand in an area of 13,750 sq km.

Lime Mud Deposits: These have been found at a depth of 180-1,200 m off Gujarat coast and at depth of 100-200 m off Andhra coast. These have also been found in the continental margin of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra and Gujarat coasts.

Phosphatic Sediments:
These have been found at depths of 200-1,000 m off Gujarat coast and at a depth of 100-200 m SE of Chennai. These contain 15-20 per cent P2O5.

Phosphorite Nodules: The concentration of P2O5 in nodules is between 15.6–18.6 per cent  and is 9.8 per cent  in phosphate rich lime mud. Oolites and Phosphate (greater than 5 per cent) in lime deposits have been found off Vengurla. The nodules along with lime mud have been found at depths of 300-550 m off Gujarat coast. Phosphorite in nodules has been found off Nagapattinam at depths of 45-412 m.

Manganese Nodules: Ferro manganese encrustations have been located off Batti Malva in the Andaman Sea. Micro-manganese nodules have been found west of Lakshadweep at depths of 2,800-4,300 m. The polymetallic nodules and polymetallic massive sulphides (PMS) are of great interest to nations. The PMS are found in localised sites along hot springs in underwater volcanic ranges and contain copper, gold, silver, iron and zinc. The polymetallic nodules, covering vast areas are found at 4–5 km of depth and contain cobalt, nickel, manganese and iron.

Undersea Mining Rights

India had received rights to explore these nodules in 1987. It has established two mine sites after exploring an area of about 4 million sq miles. China too has been active in this region and its company China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA) has been allowed by the International Seabed Authority to undertake PMS exploration in an area of 10,000 sq km in South-west Indian Ocean.

Within its EEZ, a coastal state has sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing natural living and non-living resources of the waters superjacent to the seabed and its subsoil. Further, it can exploit and explore production of energy from water, winds and currents. The EEZ remains an open zone with freedom of innocent passage for all. The EEZ legal regime is different from that governing territorial waters and high seas and contains certain characteristics of both.

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