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Another former US-licensed Mine Site goes to an ISA Applicant

In December of 2012, the Heritage Foundation issued a report recommending that the United States unilaterally enclose an area of the deep ocean floor once claimed by Ocean Management Inc. but later was released when the corporation was dissolved. Since there was no commercial interest in claiming a site, this would have required unilateral federal action to claim an area below the high seas exclusively for the United States government without plans to develop the resources and without the benefit of either the LOS Convention or existing US law. The recommendation has been made moot by the publication on March 24th, 2014, of the recommendation of the Legal and Technical Commission of the International Seabed Authority for the approval of an application that covers all of the available part of the original OMI site known in the US as USA-2. This is the second former US site to be claimed under the ISA: in 2012 the former USA-3 site, once registered and later abandoned by Ocean Mining Associates, was sought a Belgian company whose application was approved by the Authority.

A unilateral claim of exclusive rights to the seabed outside of the LOS Convention, and outside of the US legislation that pre-dated the adoption of the LOS Convention, would have constituted a new claim to the seabed that could undermine any future effort by the United States to deter foreign unilateral claims to other resources of the seabed and the water column. As such, the Heritage Foundation recommendation was not taken seriously by the US government.

Last summer, UK Seabed Resources sought a Contract for Exploration from the International Seabed Authority for a site in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (this would be the second site since a previous application was approved in 2012). At the time, the location addressed by this application was proprietary and not released to the public pending action by the Legal and Technical Commission.

A packed schedule and slow progress precluded action on the UKSBR application at the 2013 session of the L&T Commission, so it was held over for the first session of the Commission in February 2014. The results of that session are just now being published on the ISA web site.

The map included in the report of the L&T Commission shows that the UKSBR application covers all of the available area of a site once that was once licensed under US legislation to Ocean Management Inc., a consortia then headed by the US arm of International Nickel. Part of the original OMI claim has already been claimed and another part has been designated an Area of Particular Environmental Interest and is no longer open to claims, but adjacent areas of the seabed were added to the remainder of the site to bring it near the maximum area of 150,000 sq km.

The Legal and Technical Commission has recommended the site for approval by the Council, which, by the rules we helped negotiate in the Convention and the Agreement on Implementation, makes it virtually certain to be approved. The Commission recommended to the Council one of the two halves in which UKSBR divided the site to become a Reserved Area in which developing states may seek a contract.

Here is a map showing the positions of the former USA-2 site (indicated by white cross-hatching) and the two halves of the UK Seabed Resources site, marked in brown (A) and in green (B), each with a white pattern of dots. This shows that the USA-2 site has, since it was released with the dissolution of OMI in 1997, had sections claimed by several ISA contractors, was reduced by the creation of an Area of Particular Environmental Interest, and the remainder of the original site supplanted by the UK Seabed Resources claim. In turn, the UK Seabed Resources claim added adjacent areas of the seabed not part of USA-2. The map also indicates one of two other sites registered under US law, with two sections marked in brown as USA-1. The second surviving US claim is off the edge of the map to the east (in dark green). Both sites are currently licensed under US law, but the licensee, Lockheed Martin, as said that it will not conduct at-sea operations without the US being a member of the ISA.

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