International Seabed Authority

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International Seabed Authority
International Seabed Authority Logo.png
ISA Headquaters.jpg
ISA Headquarters
Formation16 November 1994; 26 years ago (1994-11-16)
TypeIntergovernmental organization
PurposeRegulate deep seabed mining and ensure the marine environment is protected from any harmful effects which may arise from mining activities.
HeadquartersKingston, Jamaica
Coordinates17°57′53″N 76°47′30″W / 17.964767531°N 76.791708055°W / 17.964767531; -76.791708055Coordinates: 17°57′53″N 76°47′30″W / 17.964767531°N 76.791708055°W / 17.964767531; -76.791708055
Membership (2018)
168 states parties[1]
Michael W. Lodge
Main organ
Assembly of the International Seabed Authority
AffiliationsObserver to the United Nations General Assembly
Budget (2017 & 2018)
$17.1 Million[2]

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) (French: Autorité internationale des fonds marins) is an intergovernmental body based in Kingston, Jamaica, that was established to organize, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (referred to as "the Area"[3][4]), an area underlying most of the world's oceans. It is an organization established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.[5]


Following at least ten preparatory meetings over the[which?] years,[6] the Authority held its first inaugural meeting in its host country, Jamaica, on 16 November 1994,[7] the day the Convention came into force. The articles governing the Authority have been made "noting the political and economic changes, including market-oriented approaches, affecting the implementation" of the Convention.[8] The Authority obtained its observer status to the United Nations in October 1996.[9]

Currently, the Authority has 167 members and the European Union, composed of all parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.[5]

Two principal organs establish the policies and govern the work of the Authority: the Assembly, in which all members are represented, and a 36-member Council elected by the Assembly. Council members are chosen according to a formula designed to ensure equitable representation of countries from various groups, including those engaged in seabed mineral exploration and the land-based producers of minerals found on the seabed. The Authority holds one annual session, usually of two weeks' duration.

Also established is a 30-member Legal and Technical Commission which advises the Council and a 15-member Finance Committee that deals with budgetary and related matters. All members are experts nominated by governments and elected to serve in their individual capacity.

The Authority operates by contracting with private and public corporations and other entities authorizing them to explore, and eventually exploit, specified areas on the deep seabed for mineral resources essential for building most technological products.[10] The Convention also established a body called the Enterprise which is to serve as the Authority's own mining operator, but no concrete steps have been taken to bring this into being.


The Authority currently has a Secretariat of 37 authorized posts and a biennial budget of $9.1 million for 2017 and $8.9 million for 2018. In July 2016, the Assembly of the Authority elected Michael Lodge of the United Kingdom, for a four-year term as Secretary-General beginning 1 January 2017.[11] He succeeds Nii Allotey Odunton of Ghana, who had served two consecutive four-year terms since 2008.

Member states represented in blue; observer states in yellow (note: the European Union also holds membership)

Exploration contracts[edit]

The exploitation system envisaged in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, overseen by the Authority, came to life with the signature in 2001/02 of 15-year contracts with seven organizations that had applied for specific seabed areas in which they were authorized to explore for polymetallic nodules. In 2006, a German entity was added to the list.

These contractors are: Yuzhmorgeologya (Russian Federation); Interoceanmetal Joint Organization (IOM) (Bulgaria, Cuba, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Russian Federation); the Government of the Republic of Korea; China Ocean Minerals Research and Development Association (COMRA) (China); Deep Ocean Resources Development Company (DORD) (Japan); Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer (IFREMER) (France); the Government of India, the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources of Germany.

All but one of the current areas of exploration are in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, in the Equatorial North Pacific Ocean south and southeast of Hawaii. The remaining area, being explored by India, is in the Central Indian Basin of the Indian Ocean.[12]

Each area is limited to 150,000 square kilometres (58,000 sq mi), of which half is to be relinquished to the Authority after eight years. Each contractor is required to report once a year on its activities in its assigned area. So far, none of them has indicated any serious move to begin commercial exploitation.

In 2008, the Authority received two new applications for authorization to explore for polymetallic nodules, coming for the first time from private firms in developing island nations of the Pacific. Sponsored by their respective governments, they were submitted by Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.[13] and Tonga Offshore Mining Limited.[14] A 15-year exploration contract was granted by the Authority to Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. on 22 July 2011 and to Tonga Offshore Mining Limited on 12 January 2012.[15]

Fifteen-year exploration contracts for polymetallic nodules were also granted to G-TECH Sea Mineral Resources NV (Belgium) on 14 January 2013; Marawa Research and Exploration Ltd (Kiribati) on 19 January 2015; Ocean Mineral Singapore Pte Ltd on 22 January 2015; UK Seabed Resources Ltd (two contracts on 8 February 2013 and 29 March 2016 respectively); Cook Islands Investment Corporation on 15 July 2016 and more recently China Minmetals Corporation on 12 May 2017.[citation needed]

The Authority has signed seven contracts for the exploration for polymetallic sulphides in the South West Indian Ridge, Central Indian Ridge and Mid-Atlantic Ridge with China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (18 November 2011); the Government of Russia (29 October 2012); Government of the Republic of Korea (24 June 2014); Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer (Ifremer, France, 18 November 2014); the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources of Germany (6 May 2015); and the Government of India (26 September 2016) and the Government of the Republic of Poland (12 February 2018).[citation needed]

The Authority also holds five contracts for the exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the Western Pacific Ocean with China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (29 April 2014); Japan Oil Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC, 27 January 2014); Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation (10 March 2015), Companhia De Pesquisa de Recursos Minerais (9 November 2015) and the Government of the Republic of Korea (27 March 2018). [16][17]


The Authority's main legislative accomplishment to date has been the adoption, in the year 2000, of regulations governing exploration for polymetallic nodules.[18][19] These resources, also called manganese nodules, contain varying amounts of manganese, cobalt, copper and nickel. They occur as potato-sized lumps scattered about on the surface of the ocean floor, mainly in the central Pacific Ocean but with some deposits in the Indian Ocean.

The Council of the Authority began work, in August 2002, on another set of regulations, covering polymetallic sulfides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, which are rich sources of such minerals as copper, iron, zinc, silver and gold, as well as cobalt. The sulphides are found around volcanic hot springs, especially in the western Pacific Ocean, while the crusts occur on oceanic ridges and elsewhere at several locations around the world. The Council decided in 2006 to prepare separate sets of regulations for sulphides and for crusts, with priority given to sulphides. It devoted most of its sessions in 2007 and 2008 to this task, but several issues remained unresolved. Chief among these were the definition and configuration of the area to be allocated to contractors for exploration, the fees to be paid to the Authority and the question of how to deal with any overlapping claims that might arise.[20] Meanwhile, the Legal and Technical Commission reported progress on ferromanganese crusts.[21]

In addition to its legislative work, the Authority organizes annual workshops on various aspects of seabed exploration, with emphasis on measures to protect the marine environment from any harmful consequences. It disseminates the results of these meetings through publications. Studies over several years covering the key mineral area of the Central Pacific resulted in a technical study on biodiversity, species ranges and gene flow in the abyssal Pacific nodule province, with emphasis on predicting and managing the impacts of deep seabed mining[22] A workshop at Manoa, Hawaii, in October 2007[23] produced a rationale and recommendations for the establishment of "preservation reference areas" in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, where nodule mining would be prohibited in order to leave the natural environment intact. The most recent workshop, held at Chennai, India, in February 2008, concerned polymetallic nodule mining technology, with special reference to its current status and challenges ahead[24]

Contrary to early hopes that seabed mining would generate extensive revenues for both the exploiting countries and the Authority, no technology has yet been developed for gathering deep-sea minerals at costs that can compete with land-based mines. Until recently, the consensus has been that economic mining of the ocean depths might be decades away. Moreover, the United States, with some of the most advanced ocean technology in the world, has not yet ratified the Law of the Sea Convention and is thus not a member of the Authority.

In recent years, however, interest in deep sea mining, especially with regard to ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic sulphides, has picked up among several firms now operating in waters within the national zones of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga. Papua New Guinea was the first country in the world to grant commercial exploration licenses for seafloor massive sulphide deposits when it granted the initial license to Nautilus Minerals in 1997. Japan's new ocean policy emphasizes the need to develop methane hydrate and hydrothermal deposits within Japan's exclusive economic zone and calls for the commercialization of these resources within the next 10 years. Reporting on these developments in his annual report to the Authority in April 2008, Secretary-General Nandan referred also to the upward trend in demand and prices for cobalt, copper, nickel and manganese, the main metals that would be derived from seabed mining, and he noted that technologies being developed for offshore extraction could be adapted for deep sea mining.[25]

In its preamble, UNCLOS defines the international seabed area—the part under ISA jurisdiction—as "the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction". There are no maps annexed to the Convention to delineate this area. Rather, UNCLOS outlines the areas of national jurisdiction, leaving the rest for the international portion. National jurisdiction over the seabed normally leaves off at 200 nautical miles (370 km) seaward from baselines running along the shore, unless a nation can demonstrate that its continental shelf is naturally prolonged beyond that limit, in which case it may claim up to 350 nautical miles (650 km). ISA has no role in determining this boundary. Rather, this task is left to another body established by UNCLOS, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which examines scientific data submitted by coastal states that claim a broader reach. Maritime boundaries between states are generally decided by bilateral negotiation (sometimes with the aid of judicial bodies), not by ISA.

Recently, there has been much interest in the possibility of exploiting seabed resources in the Arctic Ocean, bordered by Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States (see Territorial claims in the Arctic). Mineral exploration and exploitation activities in any seabed area not belonging to these states would fall under ISA jurisdiction.

Endowment fund[edit]

In 2006 the Authority established an Endowment Fund to Support Collaborative Marine Scientific Research on the International Seabed Area. The Fund will aid experienced scientists and technicians from developing countries to participate in deep-sea research organized by international and national institutions. A campaign was launched in February 2008 to identify participants, establish a network of cooperating bodies and seek outside funds to augment the initial $3 million endowment from the Authority.[26]

The International Seabed Authority Endowment Fund promotes and encourages the conduct of collaborative marine scientific research in the international seabed area through two main activities:

  • By supporting the participation of qualified scientists and technical personnel from developing countries in marine scientific research programmes and activities.
  • By providing opportunities to these scientists to participate in relevant initiatives.

The Secretariat of the International Seabed Authority is facilitating these activities by creating and maintaining an ongoing list of opportunities for scientific collaboration, including research cruises, deep-sea sample analysis, and training and internship programmes. This entails building a network of co-operating groups interested in (or presently undertaking) these types of activities and programmes, such as universities, institutions, contractors with the Authority and other entities.

The Secretariat is also actively seeking applications from scientists and other technical personnel from developing nations to be considered for assistance under the Fund. Application guidelines have been prepared for potential recipients to participate in marine scientific research programmes or other scientific co-operation activity, to enroll in training programmes, and to qualify for technical assistance. An advisory panel will evaluate all incoming applications and make recommendations to the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority so successful applicants may be awarded with Fund assistance.

To maximize opportunities for and participation in the Fund, the Secretariat is also seeking donations and in-kind contributions to build on the initial investment of US$3 million. This entails raising awareness of the Fund, reporting on its successes and encouraging new activities and participants.

Voluntary commitments[edit]

In 2017, the Authority registered seven voluntary commitments with the UN Oceans Conference for Sustainable Development Goal 14. These were:

  1. OceanAction15467 – Enhancing the role of women in marine scientific research through capacity building
  2. OceanAction15796 – Encouraging dissemination of research results through the ISA Secretary-General Award for Excellence in Deep-Sea Research
  3. OceanAction16538 – Abyssal Initiative for Blue Growth (with UN-DESA)
  4. OceanAction16494 – Fostering cooperation to promote the sustainable development of Africa's deep seabed resources in support of Africas Blue Economy
  5. OceanAction17746 – Enhancing the assessment of essential ecological functions of the deep sea oceans through long-term underwater oceanographic observatories in the Area;
  6. OceanAction17776 – Enhancing deep sea marine biodiversity assessment through the creation of online taxonomic atlases linked to deep sea mining activities in the Area


The exact nature of the ISA's mission and authority has been questioned by opponents of the Law of the Sea Treaty who are generally skeptical of multilateral engagement by the United States.[27] The United States is the only major maritime power that has not ratified the Convention (see United States non-ratification of the UNCLOS), with one of the main anti-ratification arguments being a charge that the ISA is flawed or unnecessary. In its original form, the Convention included certain provisions that some found objectionable, such as:

  • Imposition of permit requirements, fees and taxation on seabed mining; ban on mining absent ISA permission
  • Use of collected money for wealth redistribution in addition to ISA administration
  • Mandatory technology transfer

Because of these concerns, the United States pushed for modification of the Convention, obtaining a 1994 Agreement on Implementation that somewhat mitigates them and thus modifies the ISA's authority. Despite this change the United States has not ratified the Convention and so is not a member of ISA, although it sends sizable delegations to participate in meetings as an observer.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Member States". International Seabed Authority. International Seabed Authority. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  2. ^ "Seabed Council Hears Report of Finance Committee; Approves by Decision US$17 Million Budget for Authority for 2017–2018; Recommends Working Capital Fund Increase to $660,000" (PDF). International Seabed Authority. International Seabed Authority. 14 July 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2018.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Documents and Publications". International Seabed Authority. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008.
  4. ^ Jon Copley (7 November 2020). "Deep-sea mining is making the seabed the hottest real estate on Earth". New Scientist.
  5. ^ a b Chronological lists of ratifications of, accessions and successions to the Convention and the related Agreements. UN: regularly updated.
  6. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 48 Resolution 28. Law of the Sea A/RES/48/28 page 4. 11 January 1994. Retrieved 23 April 2009.
  7. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 49 Verbatim Report 22. A/49/PV.22 page 10. Mr. Robertson Jamaica 7 October 1994. Retrieved 23 April 2009.
  8. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 48 Resolution 263. Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 A/RES/48/263 17 August 1994. Retrieved 23 April 2009.
  9. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 51 Verbatim Report 40. Observer status for the International Seabed Authority in the General Assembly A/51/PV.40 page 22. 24 October 1996. Retrieved 23 April 2009.
  10. ^ Urbina, Ian (2019). "The Next Frontier". The Outlaw Ocean: Crime and Survival in the Last Untamed Frontier. p. 473. ISBN 978-0451492944.
  11. ^ "Decision of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority Concerning the Appointment of the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority" (PDF). International Seabed Authority. International Seabed Authority. 21 July 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 August 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  12. ^ "Exploration Areas | International Seabed Authority". Archived from the original on 15 September 2007.
  13. ^ Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.: application for approval of a plan of work for exploration. Archived 17 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Document ISBA/14/LTC/L.2, 21 April 2008.
  14. ^ Tonga Offshore Mining Limited : application for approval of a plan of work for exploration. Archived 17 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Document ISBA/14/LTC/L.3, 21 April 2008.
  15. ^ "Contractors | International Seabed Authority". Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  16. ^ "中国大洋协会与国际海底管理局签订富钴结壳勘探合同". 中国政府网 (in Chinese).
  18. ^ Mining Code | International Seabed Authority. Archived 22 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine Regulations on Prospecting and Exploration for Polymetallic Nodules in the Area.
  19. ^ Website of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP), volume 10, abstract 2 (18 December 2001). Archived 19 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine The University of Dundee (United Kingdom). Article on the Regulations (2001) by Michael W. Lodge, chief of the ISA United Nations Office of Legal Affairs
  20. ^ Statement by the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority to the Eighteenth Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine New York, 16 June 2008.
  21. ^ Statement of the President of the Council of the International Seabed Authority on the work of the Council during the fourteenth session. Archived 17 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Document ISBA/14/C/11, 5 June 2008.
  22. ^ Biodiversity, species ranges, and gene flow in the abyssal Pacific nodule province: predicting and managing the impacts of deep seabed mining. Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine ISA Technical Study No. 3, 2007.
  23. ^ Workshop on Designing Marine Protected Areas for Seamounts and the Abyssal Nodule Province in Pacific High Seas. Archived 17 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Document ISBA/14/LTC/2.
  24. ^ Report on the International Seabed Authority's workshop on polymetallic nodule mining technology: current status and challenges ahead. Archived 2 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Document ISBA/14/C/7, prepared by the Secretariat.
  25. ^ Report of the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority under article 166, paragraph 4, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Archived 17 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Document ISBA/14/A/2, 14 April 2008.
  26. ^ "Endowment Fund | International Seabed Authority". Archived from the original on 30 April 2009.
  27. ^ Law of the Sea Treaty. Archived 9 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine National Center for Public Policy Research.
  28. ^ U.S. Senate panel backs Law of the Sea treaty | Reuters. 31 October 2007.

External links[edit]