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Huge deposits of cobalt near Cook isles

By Helen Greig RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Aug. 31, 2010) – In the Cook Islands, a Seabed Minerals Policy Taskforce has been set up by government to provide advice on the national seabed minerals policy and guidelines on the set up of the Seabed Minerals Authority.

[PIR editor’s note: According the site-Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Cook Islands nodules have among the highest cobalt content in the Pacific worth 10 to 30 times more than copper or nickel. It is estimated that the 32 million tonnes of cobalt resource is enough to sustain the current world demand for 520 years. According to SPC, the mining tailings could be harmful to the marine ecosystem if not disposed of properly.]

The taskforce, headed by Marine Resources Secretary Ben Ponia, was appointed about two months ago with the approval of cabinet under minister of natural minerals resources Robert Wigmore. It is responsible for developing the national policy for the seabed minerals industry and will provide legal, policy and technical advice to government in the development and management of the resource.

The taskforce vice chair is Foreign Affairs and Immigration Secretary Jim Gosselin, and members are National Environment Service Director Vaitoti Tupa, Office of the PM Policy Director Liz Koteka-Wright, Public Service Commissioner Navy Epati, Solicitor General Tingika Elikana, acting Financial Secretary Kevin Carr, and private sector representatives Nadine Newnham and Tim Arnold.

Ponia said the taskforce will review the draft of the seabed mineral policy and look at how it will be brought into effect.

The taskforce was set up about two months ago and has had ‘one quick inception meeting’ which included the Commonwealth Secretariat legal advisor Johsua O’Brien.

Ponia says the taskforce serves as an interim arrangement before a Seabed Authority is appointed.

Local lawyer Tim Arnold said he had agreed to be on the taskforce to help look at the legal issues involved.

"This is an entirely new frontier from legal point of view. Obviously there’s a policy – clearly the policy needs to have a legislative underpinning. And there’s a huge piece of legislation (Seabed Minerals Act 2009) that’s been passed by parliament but unless that’s understood, and unless people engage with it in terms of everything that flows from that in terms of regulations, in terms of identifying suitable people to man the office – then there will be nobody at the wheel when people come asking for exploration licenses."

Arnold says he’s personally skeptical that the whole thing is going to result in anything in the short to medium term.

"The technology to exploit these minerals in a cost effective way is probably at least a decade away. I believe that one of the things the taskforce can and should be doing is letting the public of the Cook Islands know that we’re not here because there’s huge amounts of money to be made next year – we’re here because we’re dealing with something that belongs to all Cook Islanders and its part of people’s heritage over the next 50 to 150 years. It’s an opportunity to be involved in setting something up in a responsible manner," he said.

Newnham says part of the policy will address how future revenues from the exploration and mining of the manganese nodules will be managed.

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