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Mining companies lining up to exploit find

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, July 1, 2008) - Fiji’s Mineral Resources Department said it has not been formally notified of the research study regarding several huge active submarine volcanoes found near Fiji.

Two weeks ago, online news sites reported that Australian scientists have discovered two mineral-rich, active volcanoes more than a kilometer under the sea near Fiji, with mining companies already lining up to try to exploit the sites.

"If indeed the volcanoes are located within Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone, then there is potential for offshore mineral deposition," the Mineral Resources Department said.

On reports that mining companies are already lining up to exploit the sites, the Department said Cabinet had earlier in the year agreed that a moratorium be placed on granting of any offshore exploration or mining licenses until the Offshore Mining Policy has been finalized.

"It is thus unlikely that licenses will be granted until the necessary frameworks have been completed," it said.

According to the articles, the discovery came during a sea floor mapping expedition in the region, in part sponsored by exploration companies.

Measuring 50 kilometers wide by almost 4,000 meters tall, the volcanoes are bubbling away at 1,100 meters and 1,500 meters below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, in an area known as the North Lau Basin, between Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

They are within the Pacific rim of fire, an area of high earthquake activity, and are spewing into the sea black smoke containing precious minerals, the report said.

Chief scientist at the Australian National University, geology professor Richard Arculus, was quoted as saying that though they are in a seismologically-unstable area, the volcanoes were not likely to trigger a tsunami.

He said the real danger is not eruption but rather collapse. Any eruption though would be a hazard for the neighboring Pacific nations.

The Mineral Department said that according to resident geologists and seismologists, active volcanoes and seismic activity are not uncommon in Fiji.

"Undersea volcanoes being active do not necessarily present a threat as it depends on its distance from populated islands, its depth, scale and nature of activity.

"However, there has not been any seismic activity of significance recently to indicate high level of volcanic activity."

The articles further said the black smoke pouring out of the calderas leaves behind minerals containing lead, zinc, copper and gold.

Professor Arculus says several exploration companies, who were also sponsors of the voyage, were interested in high grade metals and want to mine such underwater volcanoes.

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