After the H.M.S. Challenger's discovery (1873~1876), the secret has been slowly ascertained. The secret was rich mineral deposits.
As the most typical deep sea deposits are manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt, all of which are vital to at the aerocraft space and electromagnetic industries. In 2000, however, these minerals' self-sufficiency had shown a 15.35% decrease against the 16.4% in 1984. Specialists predict that Korea's self-sufficiency will recorded 0.04% in 2010. It is not only Korea's problem but also the world's.
Most of the Korean press reported the Korean Ocean Research & Development Institute (KORDI)'s important discovery, announced on September 15. According to the spokesperson of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, they discovered manganese nodules at the Clarion-Clipperton (C-C) fracture zone, in the western Pacific. It is estimated to be more than three hundred -million tons.
The Dongguk Post met with Park Cheong-kee, a principal research scientist at KORDI, to understand the importance of deep-sea resources development.
Why do deep sea resources attract the world's attention?
"As you know, developing countries developed their countries too rapidly, and now the world is suffering from a lack of resources, especially nickel, cobalt and is copper. South Korea, has various kinds of mineral resources, but in the quantity is too small to use. Other countries are much the same as Korea.
"Unfortunately, many mineral deposits are in troubled areas of the world (Africa, South America, etc.). Resources will be used in the future as a nation's weapon. So, they are enthusiastic about securing minerals. If we develop deep-sea resources, we can secure our own source of supply. Moreover, there is no restriction on development, because it is untapped territory." Mr. Park explained the reasons why we have to take interest in deep sea resource development.
Manganese nodules, manganese crust, hydrothermal deposits and methane hydrate are monitored by every nation's ocean ographic institute. Among them, manganese nodules are worth of developing. It contains 40 kinds of high purity minerals of great strategic use. "Manganese crust contains Nickel (0.9%), Cobalt (1.2%) and Copper (0.4%). In 2010, analysts calculate that the cost of importing these 4 minerals will exceed 1.5 billion dollars. We can replace the source of supply and reduce the cost of imports by developing the deep sea." He emphasized the economic gains of exploiting deep sea resources.
In 1960, U.S and other western countries recognized the importance of the resources (especially manganese nodules). Then, they started researching the fracture zones, round the pacific. As a result, they discovered that the C-C fracture zone was worth of exploiting the most. "Development of deep sea resources needs high-tech mining machines and detectors. So, European nations created a consortium of mining companies to do the development in 1970. At the same time, Lockheed Corporation was leading the development in the U.S. At that time, developed countries completed their abyss mining technology. However, they didn't started mining because exploit mining was much cheaper than abyss mining. Meantime, the prices of minerals are skyrocketing and they are reinvestigating their ocean mining areas."
After the "Law of the Sea" came into effect in 1994, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) appeared. They regard deep sea resources as a common heritage of mankind and wanted to supervise resource exploitation. The ISA also divided the ocean mining areas among their member. Any nation wanting to develop the resources has to become an ISA's member.
Korea's movement toward deep sea resources
Korea began exploring for the resources in 1983, renting Hawaii University's exploring boat. However it was short-lived. Thereafter, Korea's exploration felled into a deep sleep. Korea's development project came to a most important turning point when the government announced the Mineral Resources Development Project of the Seafloor in 1992. After 2 years, the ISA assigned a part of the C-C fracture zone (15 million ㎢) famous for buried large quantities of manganese nodules to Korea. "We were able to reduce the technological gap with the advanced countries taking part in development of C-C fracture zone during the 12 years. It's an unprecedented matter, and other countries are watching the development of Korea's ability. Japan and India recently suggested joint research in the zone. However, Korea still has long way to go to reduce the gap, especially in mining technology. China, for example, which got into exploitation later than developed countries, has mined below the 250m depth. We have only mined at 30m.
We will have a technical base of mining technology and will be mining for manganese nodules in the fracture zone by 2010. However, the government needs to support our efforts as much as other developed countries." he said.
According to Mr. Park, deep sea resources are attractive minerals to many countries. By refining these minerals, we can gain the main minerals that play an important roll in present-day industries and at a reasonable price. Importantly, we won't have to rely on imports.
"Korea's deep sea resources exploitation is poised to compete with advanced countries in the 21st-century. Moreover, we also seek to advance the ocean science technology, which will have a ripple effect on allied industries. We can draw up blueprints for our prosperity. It is an untapped territory; it depends on our efforts.
Kim Hyung-jong firstname.lastname@example.org
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