Prospector seeks seabed mining licence

Last updated 00:00 30/08/2007

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Prospector Neptune Minerals says it has discovered a second big mineral deposit on the ocean floor 200 kilometres north of New Zealand and is about to ask the Government for a permit to mine underwater.

The latest mineral deposit was found in a former site of hydrothermal vents, known as a seafloor massive sulphide (SMS) zone on the Rumble II West seamount.

Neptune, an international company, said it planned to lodge its first mining licence application with the Government.

"This is a significant step forward for Neptune to meet its goal of commercial SMS production," chief executive Simon McDonald said.

He did not specify the composition of the deposit but research scientists found high concentrations of gold on the seamount in 2004.

SMS deposits are left on the sea floor by hydrothermal vents over millions of years as minerals in the Earth's crust dissolve in super- heated fluids, then drop to the seafloor when they hit the cold water.

Neptune o said it was in talks with prominent marine survey contractors who had expressed interest in tendering for the company's future exploration programme, Project Trident, which will be focused initially on its New Zealand "tenements".

Its plans to ask for a mining licence are likely to trigger debate over whether mining the seabed is less intrusive and environmentally destructive than mining on land.

No company has yet commercially developed sea floor mining of such minerals, but if such deposits can be economically recovered, they are expected to spawn a new global industry.

Neptune's Project Trident operations will begin next year to make detailed follow-ups on "targets" outlined during its two exploration efforts this year, Kermadec 2007 and Colville-Monowai 2007.

The RV Tangaroa, operated by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research has just finished a 30-day Colville-Monowai voyage to map many of the other SMS target areas in Neptune's prospecting licence. Neptune Minerals is listed on the London Stock Exchange's secondary board, the Alternative Investment Market.

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- NZPA

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