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India, China, Germany and South Korea already have exploration licences for polymetallic sulphides in the Indian Ocean ridge area.

In 2022, India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology conducted trials of its mining machine at a depth of 5,270m in the central Indian Ocean basin and collected some polymetallic nodules (potato-shaped rocks that lie on the seafloor and are rich in manganese, cobalt, nickel, and copper).

India’s earth sciences ministry did not respond to the BBC’s questions on the country’s deep-sea mining plans.

“India may be ultimately seeking to project that it is a powerhouse in its own right, one that is not to be outrivalled in its own backyard, as well as to give the impression that it is not lagging behind the Chinese when it comes to the deep sea,” says Pradeep Singh, who works on ocean governance at the Research Institute for Sustainability in Potsdam, Germany.

The US is not part of the race to mine international waters as it has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the agreement which led to the creation of the ISA. Instead, it aims to source minerals from its domestic seabed and process ones mined by its allies from international waters.

Supporters of deep seabed exploration say that mining on land has almost reached a saturation point, resulting in low-quality production, and that many of the mineral source-areas are plagued by conflict or environmental issues.

But environmental campaigners say the deep seabed is the last frontier in the planet that remains largely unstudied and untouched by humanity and mining there could cause irreparable damage, no matter how pressing the need.

Around two dozen countries – including the UK, Germany, Brazil and Canada – are also demanding either a halt or a temporary pause on deep-sea mining, given what they say is a lack of information about the marine ecosystems in those depths.

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