Plain Truth Magazine
January 1982
Volume: Vol 47, No.1
Issue: ISSN 0032-0420
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Donald D Schroeder  

Decisions made in the next few months may determine whether nations peacefully resolve ownership and control of the oceans' riches!

   WHO really owns the oceans? What authority has the right to dictate how nations use and control the seas? Where does a nation's coastal jurisdiction stop?
   For decades the ownership and control of more than 70 percent of the earth's surface the ocean and ocean bottoms has become a growing dispute. And no wonder!
   The ocean floor is potentially the greatest treasure trove of untapped, exploitable minerals in the world!
   A new kind of battle is suddenly shaping up for the control of the riches of the seabed.

Heated Dispute

   Sufficient technology already exists, and more is on the drawing boards, whereby the highly industrialized nations can mine the oceans and gain greater mineral security in an unstable world. With or without international regulations they plan to go ahead.
   At the same time, the developing nations, without ocean mining technology or financing, heatedly demand that a supranational seabed agency be formed. Its purpose? To control and share the wealth of deep-sea ocean mining as the "common heritage of all mankind."
   This 120-nation bloc, sometimes referred to as the Third World, hopes to be able to dominate or influence such a super agency. The bloc wants a supranational, political authority to enforce what is viewed by the Third World as a more equitable redistribution of the ocean's wealth, and help propel them on their pathway to a New International Economic Order.

Law of the Sea?

   Legally, the sea has been a quagmire. For more than eight years, the Law of the Sea Conference, under the auspices of the United Nations, has been trying to resolve all aspects and uses of the sea by a convention of internationally accepted law.
   More than 150 nations around 120 of them coastal states have been involved in hammering out 320 articles, not to mention nine annexes, in hard often behind-the-scenes bargaining and concessions. The U.N. convention being prepared for signing by participants is a take-it-all-or-none treaty. Despite eight years of laborious efforts a few highly controversial issues regarding the political structure of the powerful seabed mining authority still have not been agreed upon.
   Breakdown of this conference could finally drown the hope that nations can ever resolve their soaring international problems by a common rule of law.
   The disputed draft of the Law of the Sea Convention is unprecedented in scope and power. Once in force it would significantly alter world economic and political patterns as we know them.
   It is time you became aware of some of the more important parts of the controversial U.N. Convention:
    A 12 mile limit of territorial sovereignty over seas from coast lines.
    200 mile economic zone where coastal nations have exclusive rights to fishing and mineral exploitation, or licensing others to do so. (Some nearby landlocked nations may also have some rights in this zone) Coastal nations also control marine resources on continuations of continental shelves beyond 200 miles.
    Regulations on scientific marine research in other nations' economic zones.
    Compulsory arbitration of disputes between nations by a Law of the Sea Tribunal.
    An International Seabed Authority (ISA) with power to tax private ocean-bed mining consortiums, to license, to consign mining areas, to limit seabed production to protect land-based producers and dispense profits from its own mining operations to developing nations.
   It was hoped the final draft of this unprecedented treaty would be ready for signing by participants at the Law of the Sea Conference scheduled in New York City for March of this year.
   But early last year the United States government suddenly decided to review the whole package of negotiations. Several key U.S. negotiators were fired. Law of the Sea conferees were shocked.
   The newly installed Reagan administration found the authority of the ISA and regulations limiting seabed production especially objectionable to free-enterprise miners. They also considered the Seabed Authority dangerous to U.S. national security interests. (The Republican Party platform before the elections in 1980 objected to the Law of the Sea Treaty on grounds that it would "inhibit United States exploitation of the sea for its abundant mineral resources.")
   Now many governments fear a United States rejection of key parts of the painfully negotiated treaty will rekindle reservations and claims held by other nations. As a result the whole package of negotiations could unwind. Many negotiators fear that a breakdown of the Law of the Sea Convention will inflame a new wave of anger, hostility and belligerency by the Third World against the industrial world, especially the United States.
   Developing nations want the United States involved in the Law of the Sea Treaty because it is the leader in ocean mining technology. But they insist the treaty must be concluded with or without Washington, and at this spring's session.
   That means decisions made by many key industrial nations before the next session of the Law of the Sea Conference may determine the news you will be reading about for years to come!

Most Divisive Issue

   The most disputed part of the Law of the Sea the part on which success or failure of the treaty rests is the makeup and powers of the International Seabed Authority. Its powers go far beyond regulating access to seabed minerals.
   For years the industrial nations, led by the United States, wanted the ISA to be only a licensing authority. Private Western mining consortiums said they were willing to give a certain percentage of their profits to the Seabed Authority to disperse to developing nations. But the developing nations demanded that control and output of minerals from deep-sea mining be totally in the hands of a supranational agency.
   To resolve the deadlock, U.S. delegates in 1976 agreed, without U.S. industrial approval, that seabed mining could proceed by two parallel mining groups. One mining group to consist of private consortiums from developed nations; the other would be an agency called Enterprise that would mine directly for the benefit of developing nations, with profits, if any, going to them.
   The hitch that irked many U.S. miners was that private consortiums would be heavily taxed, while Enterprise would not. The private consortiums would have to pay the ISA high licensing and access fees for mining areas. Western consortiums would also have to provide two mining surveys of equal value to the ISA one for themselves, one for Enterprise.
   Moreover, private consortiums would have to relinquish their mining technology to Enterprise at fair cost. That means private consortiums would have to give up their mining secrets and technology upon demand to Enterprise so it could compete with miners from advanced nations. All this is a radically new departure in the transfer of private property in international affairs. It is totally contrary to the usual principles 34 under which free enterprise operates.
   But governance of the ISA was even more troubling to Western miners and to many U.S. leaders in Congress. Each country ratifying the treaty would be represented in the general assembly of the ISA, but the real decision-making power would be in a revolving membership, 36-nation executive council. That would give a nation such as the United States one vote out of 36. The exact makeup of who would be allowed in the powerful executive council was not totally clarified in the draft rejected by President Reagan.
   In many Westerner's minds, the International Seabed Authority could be an Orwellian agency the ultimate custodian and dictator of the high seas. And it would be in the controlling hands of ideologies diametrically opposed to many Western political and business practices. Western mining companies particularly fear limits placed on their production would endanger their enormous investments.
   The Reagan administration pulled back from further treaty negotiations to protect the nation's future supply of critical nickel, copper, manganese and cobalt. Otherwise these vital resources could fall under Third World control. And that was dangerous. The United States is heavily dependent on the imports of many of these critical minerals and the Soviet Union is not.
   U.S. negotiators have always contended that they would never relinquish their right to mine the deep seas to protect U.S. industry. "We've never accepted that common heritage carried with it the right to impair [U.S.] mining," said one U.S. negotiator.
   And so the conflict of who will mine the seas threatens to break down over the unresolved and antagonistic differences of the world's two main competing economic and political ideologies.
   The United States has already formulated laws that would grant U.S. miners rights to explore and pursue deep-sea mining if the Law of the Sea Treaty fails. Other advanced nations have indicated willingness to do so also.
   What a dilemma!
   Most of the present deep-sea mining companies from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, West Germany, France, Belgium and Japan have already laid out enormous sums of money in preparatory deep-sea research and development.
   But spokesmen for the developing nations have hinted that if industrial nations unilaterally mine the ocean beds, they will push for reprisals such as cutting off oil, land-based minerals and other raw materials on which industrialized nations depend. Will a free-for-all over the high seas develop with the strongest taking all?
   These opening months of 1982 will reveal which path nations will take. But the Bible already reveals the ultimate outcome of the Law of the Sea Convention!
   God says of all mankind, "The way of peace they know not... they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace" (Isa. 59:8). And, "They [world statesmen] have healed the wound... of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14, RSV).
   Why will the Law of the Sea Treaty fail?
   Because the basic underlying fears, the distrusts, the enmities and divisions that plague humans have never been resolved! And they will not be resolved until the restoration of the government of God on earth!

Ownership of Seas Yet to Be Resolved

   It will finally take the Supreme Super-Authority over all land and seas to force nations to live in peace! To live a way of life of giving, instead of voraciously consuming and wasting so many precious minerals particularly in preparations for war (Isa. 2:2-4).
   God owns the oceans. And He will grant use of its hidden riches only when human beings prove they have the character to use it for peaceful purposes and the benefit of all mankind!

Deep Sea Wealth An Uncertain Bonanza

   The churning sea. So awesome in its immensity. So frequently hostile. So unwilling to submit its secrets to man's conquest.
   Mankind knows more about the forces and terrain of the moon and outer space than earth's water inner space. The oceans are mankind's last frontier. "It's like opening up the Wild West!" exclaimed one American oceanographer. But will it turn out to be another Gold Rush?
   Man knows immense riches are there. Much of the wealth lies at depths of 10,000 to 20,000 feet (two to four miles). There, black nodules are to be found containing more than 40 elements. A number of these elements are in short supply or soon will be, from land-based sources.

Critical Minerals

   For example, manganese and cobalt are critical in the production of high quality steels and in precision jet engine technology. Upon such minerals modern industry thrives or dies. But all of the Free World's supply of these two minerals comes from a few strife-torn nations in Africa. Mining officials believe mankind may run out of land-based manganese by the turn of the century or very soon thereafter. But the ocean bottoms have more than enough.
   The nodules in some areas contain 30 percent manganese, 1.25 percent nickel, 1 percent copper and 0.25 percent cobalt. This is many times higher than usual land ores. And their tonnages on the ocean bottom are many times larger than known remaining land reserves.
   The nodules were discovered long ago, in 1872. But it wasn't until after World War II that improved underwater cameras proved millions of square miles of ocean bottom are paved with them.
   The cause of the nodules is still a mystery to humans. What is known is that they grow in layers like tree rings, but perceptibly slow. Still, their numbers are so vast that an estimated 16 million tons accumulate every year. Thus the world's oceans are a vast metal farm. The heaviest concentrations lie in a strip approximately 2,500-miles long and 500-miles wide, stretching from west of Mexico to south of Hawaii.
   But there is an unanswered question to this vast treasure trove. Though we've developed sufficient technology to mine it, how good is the quality and at what costs?

Unproven Technology

   Imagine dragging miles of heavy tubes or cables from a ship! And working in largely uncharted terrain. And fighting unknown currents. And stormy seas and unpredictable weather. But always needing precise navigation and control. And then there is the constant and terribly corrosive effect of salt water that so frequently frustrates and destroys man's intrusions into the deep.
   No consortium of industries preparing for deep-ocean mining has constructed a full-scale mining ship operation, only smaller prototypes. Such full-scale ships would be enormous vessels. They must be capable of operating nonstop for months at a time and scooping up millions of tons a year. Mineral nodules would be transferred to bulk carriers that would shuttle between the mining ship and shore processing plants.
   Three approaches of recovering nodules have been tested on a small scale: scraping nodules into a large bucket on a long cable; sucking nodules up in tubes like a giant vacuum cleaner; and sending swimming robots down to gather nodules directly.
   Another approach on the drawing boards is a 50,000-foot rotating cable hung in a giant loop between two ships, with dozens of huge buckets scraping nodules off the bottom.
   It all sounds exciting. But this technology is unbelievably complex and costly. And it will have its own massive problems with breakdowns, costly repairs and pollution.
   "Sure, we can recover nodules today and tomorrow," said one official of a company preparing for ocean mining, "but can we do it day after day, year after year?"

Economical Risk

   One U.S. Interior Department specialist on the U.S. Law of the Sea delegation believes deep-seabed mining will start to have a significant impact only after the turn of the century.
   The cost of developing a single deep-sea mining site involves immense sums. No bank or private mining consortium wants to risk that kind of money on unproven technology without prior clear-cut terms and political conditions that guarantee security of operation for a 20-year period. It will take that long to recover the investment.
   Cautioned one negotiator at the Law of the Sea Conference, "It is well to remember that no one can be certain that seabed mining will be profitable at all."
   Besides enormous technological problems and costs, ecological hazards are potentially considerable. These hazards include: heavy metal pollution of deep and surface waters, possibly leading to future depletion of resident fish populations (or of migrating fish, like tuna, being caught in the mining area); surface sediment that will interfere with light penetration and thus damage plankton formation and the food chain over hundreds of square miles; and the risk of unleashing dormant microorganisms potentially deadly to fauna, flora or man.
   Dr. Sylvia Earle, a California biologist and oceanographer said, "We live at a pivotal time in history. [It is] the first time in civilization when mankind can make this impact on the deep sea. All we really know now is, our ignorance of this resource is vast."
   It is clear that without the willingness of private consortiums from developed nations to take enormous risks and gambles, there will be no deep-sea riches for anyone. Perhaps too many have allowed deep-sea riches to get out of focus.

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Plain Truth MagazineJanuary 1982Vol 47, No.1ISSN 0032-0420