The first part of the 25th annual session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) opened on 25th February at the Authority Headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica with the convening of the first Council meeting for the year.
The Council of the ISA consists of 18 Members States including Fiji, which has been a member of the Council for many years. The role of the ISA is to regulate activities on the deep sea floor in The Area. Included in the responsibility of the ISA is the ownership of any deep sea mineral in The Area, together with the exploration and exploitation of them and the protection of the marine environment. The Area is that part of the world’s oceans beyond national exclusive economic zones.
The Fiji delegation led by Mr. Malakai Finau, Permanent Secretary for Lands and Mineral Resources attended the meeting, ensuring Fiji’s continued engagement at the ISA since it was first established in 1994 under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The first Secretary-General of the Authority was Ambassador Satya Nandan, a former Fijian civil servant and diplomat widely recognized as having played a key role in the finalization of UNCLOS the overarching international convention governing the sustainable management, protection and use of our oceans and its resources.
This year’s ISA session is particularly important as the Authority will look at the draft regulations on exploitation in the Area in the hopes of finalizing the regulations by 2020.
The main items discussed at this first Council meeting were the financial models under the regulations and other important elements of the regulations such as the standards and guidelines and key concepts, regional environmental management plans, and the precautionary approach that needs to be taken to minimize any potential environmental risks that may occur from exploitation in The Area.
In this regard, the delegation through PS Finau made several interventions underscoring the importance of establishing regional environmental management plans before any exploitation applications can be even considered by the Authority and highlighting the special vulnerabilities of Pacific Small Island Developing States that may be impacted by any adverse environmental effects of deep-sea mining due to our proximity to The Area.
The delegation stressed the importance of adopting the precautionary approach with when considering activities in The Area largely because there are still many unknowns with regards to the potential environmental impacts of exploration and eventually exploitation in The Area. The delegation also pushed for a more mandatory and inclusive consultation process concerning any activity being proposed in The Area, ensuring adjacent Coastal States are included in these consultations.
The Council will complete its meeting this week and will continue discussions at the second part of the ISA Session to be held in July this year at which an updated draft of the exploitation regulations will be considered with a view to adoption in 2020. A commemorative event to mark the 25th anniversary of the ISA will also be held at this session for which the Secretary-General of ISA has extended an invitation to the Fiji Prime Minister to attend.
Permanent Secretary Finau is accompanied by Director Mineral Resources, Mr. Apete Soro, Fiji’s Representative to the ISA Legal and Technical Commission, Dr. Russell Howorth, and Second Secretary to Fiji’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, Ms. Salaseini Tagicakibau.