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DSM Observer

For Nautilus Minerals, the debt comes due

2018 was supposed to be the year for Nautilus Minerals. Their three seafloor production tools—large underwater robots capable of mining seafloor massive sulphides from 1600 meters depth—were finally in hand and undergoing submerged testing.

Their ship, the Nautilus New Era, was nearing completion. They had only a few hurdles left to clear before beginning production at Solwara I, the much-vaunted site of the world’s first deep sea mining operation.

Then the floor dropped out.

Nautilus suffered a body-blow in late-2017, when Japan beat them to the seafloor by mining a sulphide deposit off the coast of Okinawa.Though a small operation, their success effectively undermined Nautilus’s first-mover advantage, at least in the eyes of potential investors. “Japan becomes the first to mine a deep-sea hydrothermal vent” is not the headline Nautilus wanted to read as they advanced towards production at Solwara I.

In December, Marine Assets Corporation defaulted on a payment to the Fujian Mawei shipyard. The chairman of the board resigned in January.MAC defaulted again in July, and the vessel contract was ultimately cancelled.Following the news, Anglo American, one of their minority investors, very publicly divested themselves from the project. CEO Mike Johnson subsequently and abruptly departed the company after 6 years at the helm.

Meanwhile, Sir David Attenborough, arguably the most famous voice in the world, called deep-sea mining at hydrothermal vents “deeply tragic”.

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