Insights into progress and future plans from Liu Feng, secretary general of the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA)
Opening an app on his mobile phone, Liu Feng, secretary general of COMRA, showed a real-time map indicating the tracks and positions of all China-owned vessels conducting seabed mining exploration assignments. At that moment, two vessels were shown in the Pacific Ocean.
“They are Haiyang No. 6 and Xiangyanghong No. 10,” Liu told me in his office in Beijing. “Another vessel, Dayang No.1, will leave Qingdao for the eastern Pacific on August 28 to conduct the 56th voyage under COMRA’s seabed resource exploration assignment.”Liu Feng
To enhance the development of high technology for deep-seabed mining and help apply for permission to explore the deep seabed to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the state enterprise COMRA was established in 1990. It authorises prospecting and mining on the seabed in international waters, which is known as “the Area”. The following year, COMRA, along with six other pioneer investors which included the governments of India and South Korea and the Deep Ocean Resources Development Co. Ltd from Japan, was registered to start preparatory research on seabed mining in the Area at the Preparatory Commission of the ISA and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
In 2001, COMRA signed its first exploration contract with the ISA for polymetallic nodules and gained the exclusive right for exploration and preferential right for exploitation in the contract area in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone in the northeast Pacific, a deep ocean area as big as the continental US. Then in 2011 and 2014 COMRA signed two more exploration contracts for polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts with the ISA.
Apart from being the key Chinese contractor to the ISA on seabed mining exploration, COMRA also acts as a body to provide a national institutional platform to coordinate both scientific activities and international affairs.
I interviewed Liu Feng in mid-August on issues relating to China’s technological breakthroughs on deep-sea exploration over the past two decades and its plans for future exploration.
Interview continued in full here.
NC: What are the plans for next phase of research, exploration and international cooperation?
LF: Since our first scientific expedition, we’ve conducted 55 voyages. Now there are five or six voyages every year in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, and the 56th trip is setting off soon.
During the recent ISA meeting [in Kingston, Jamaica], the proposal by the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources to join with the ISA on establishing a training centre based in Qingdao to promote developing countries’ capacity building was approved by the ISA assembly. So starting next year, we will try to provide a minimum of 20 free training opportunities for developing countries.
For exploitation, we are planning to trial our mining system of 1,000 metres below the surface next year or so in the South China Sea to prepare for the setting up of an environmental impact evaluation system for seabed-mining activities. We aim to set up our own environmentally friendly seabed mining system, also providing a reference for the ISA’s decision-making on related issues. For exploration, our vessel the Jiaolong is scheduled for an over 250-day global voyage through the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans for the purpose of encouraging international cooperation.
The interview was originally published by NewsChina and is republished in the China Dialogue Ocean article with permission.