The advancement of blue economy in the Indian Ocean region has been given a boost. In March 2022, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the multilateral body that spearheads deep sea mining in international waters, signed a memorandum of understanding. agreement to “promote their collaboration in areas of common interest”.
Michael W. Lodge, ISA Secretary General and Salman al Farisi, IORA Secretary General believe that the MoU can potentially trigger strong cooperation between ISA and IORA in the development of blue economy in the region. Both leaders are optimistic that IORA Member States “will fully benefit from the sustainable development of deep seabed mineral resources” in the international seabed area (the Area).
It is worth mentioning that the blue economy has been identified as a particular area of interest for IORA. In particular, seabed mining finds reference among the six priority pillars of the blue economy, namely (a) fisheries and aquaculture; (b) renewable ocean energy; (c) seaports and navigation; (d) offshore hydrocarbons and seabed minerals; (e) marine biotechnology, research and development; and (f) tourism.
In addition, the IORA Blue Economy Task Force under the 2017 IORA Action Plan called for the development of appropriate cooperation mechanisms for the sustainable development of blue economy sectors, including training and capacity building programs. The commitment of IORA to promote the development of the blue economy and the establishment of the Working Group on Blue Economy (WGBE) are indeed remarkable initiatives. The majority of Member States have national blue economy policies in place and concerted efforts are underway to build national and regional capacities through partnership programmes.
Since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, ISA’s mandate includes capacity building focused on training nationals of developing countries and personnel for future undertaking . It conceptualized and executed its mandate through a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at building the capacities of developing and technologically less advanced states. In this context, the more recent workshop supported by ISA 2020 on “Capacity Development, Resource and Needs Assessment” is worth mentioning and is intended to contribute to the high-level action plan of ISA to “undertake regular evaluation of the effectiveness and relevance of the capacity building programs and initiatives implemented by ISA”.
There are 167 Member States of UNCLOS 1982 and of these 147 are States Parties to the 1994 Deep Seabed Agreement (Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of UNCLOS 1982). The majority of IORA member states are its members; however, their technical knowledge and human and material infrastructure capacities to exploit the mineral wealth of the seabed are limited.
The IORA-ISA MoU envisions “joint activities in the areas of capacity building related to marine scientific research (MSR), seabed exploration, development of legal frameworks and formulation of policies, environmental management planning and joint activities for increased sharing of information and data”. Many IORA member states have invested in MSR but to a limited extent; Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is high in their priority areas but lacks the necessary tools for its development; meanwhile, some states have shown willingness to share scientific data, particularly in the context of fisheries development.
IORA also notes that there are “major constraints to the commercialization” of seabed mining in the Indian Ocean, given that member states have limited information on the resources in their EEZs, as they also lack the technical, technological and human capacity to explore. seabed minerals.
In the above context, the IORA-ISA initiative can be supported by India, which is one of the pioneer countries (pioneer investor status was awarded in 1987) and contributes vigorously to the work of the ISA and IORS. It is one of the top 8 countries/entrepreneurs and pursues a long-term program on the exploration and utilization of polymetallic nodules. India’s Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) plans to develop technologies for the exploitation of deep sea resources such as polymetallic nodules in the central Indian Ocean at a water depth of 5,500 meters. DOM also envisions national and international collaboration in education, research and excellence in marine science and ocean science and technology.
A new opportunity for collaboration to strengthen the partnership between IORA Member States has arisen. The IORA-ISA MoU will certainly spark the interest of Member States to engage in the sustainable development of seabed resources. India considers the IORA-ISA initiative to be critical to the needs of Member States and can support individual and collective capacity building in the Indian Ocean region.
A rapid start can be made by bringing together experts, policy makers, think tanks and academia from IORA Member States and promoting legal capacity development, assistance in the formulation of national policies and frameworks legislation that can support seabed mining in the area.
The study is available here
(The piece was written by Vijay Sakhuja is Consultant, Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi)