Nautilus Minerals: Mining PNG’s Seabed
This post has been in the pipeline for a while now because I was waiting for Nautilus Minerals to give me permission to use a couple of their images from their website – and yes, after a couple of questions as to why I wanted to use their images, permission was granted yesterday.
Nautilus Minerals has been somewhat criticised since they publicly declared their intention to pursue seabed mining in PNG. The purpose of this post is not to analyse the pros or cons of their legal right to mine sections of our seabed (that may come later), rather it is to inform you of how they plan to do it – which in itself is important to understand.
It is neccessary to point out that Nautilus Minerals is the first company to commercially explore the ocean floor for gold and copper sea-floor massive sulphide deposits and if they do do manage to successfully mine our seabed, then it will be history in the making.
There are three main stages or components to their mining system:
- Seafloor Mining Tool
- Riser & Lifting System
- Mining Support Vessel
See the following image:
The first step in the extraction process involves cutting the seafloor material and drawing it into the suction mouth of the Seafloor Mining Tool (SMT) as slurry. It is then transported to a pumping module and lifted up a steel riser pipe to the Mining Support Vessel (MSV) on the surface where the material is dewatered. After dewatering, the ore is transferred to barges on a continuous cycle for shipment to a nearby port facility.
You may be shocked (as I was) to find out that Nautilus has commissioned only two SMTs to be built. That’s not the shocking bit – the shocking bit is that each one weighs 190 tonnes! That is one beast of a machine and the system is designed to operate at a peak production rate of 6,000 tonnes/day.
The impressive thing about this mining system is that Nautilus has essentially “invented” it. The company has combined skills from onshore mining, dredging and deep water construction to create the specifications for the three main components of the mining system.
Earlier this year, Nautilus signed a contract with a Norwegian firm to construct a 160m dynamically positioned specialist new build ship worth US$125 million.