Environmental focus for latest Chatham Rise cruise

15 March 2012

Research Vessel Dorado Discovery is heading for the Chatham Rise today to gather a range of environmental and geotechnical data for Chatham Rock Phosphate.

The Dorado will spend about a month, in two separate legs, with a range of scientists from Crown research agencies NIWA and GNS, plus other technical staff contracted to CRP including Royal Boskalis Westminster, Golder Associates and Kenex.

“Our focus is gathering information to prepare an environmental impact report as part of our plan to apply for a mining licence this year,” managing director Chris Castle said.

CRP is financing the cruise through new equity raised from Subsea Investments.  The company’s other major shareholder is NZX listed Widespread Portfolios Ltd.

Mr Castle said the scientists on the cruise will gather a significant amount of data relating to the oceans environment in the area planned for extraction – most particularly: 

  • seabed photography of benthic biota
  • more information on sediment chemistry and physical characteristics
  • collection of samples for evaluation of benthic organisms.

“We are working very closely with NIWA, which is advising what data, relating to sea conditions and habitat, will be needed to prepare the necessary reports.  This will enable us to evaluate the potential impact of extraction and how we can manage any effects.

“NIWA has done a great job in working with the CRP during a very short time frame to bring together the people, equipment and information needed for the cruise,” Mr Castle said.  The availability of the Dorado Discovery is dictating the timing of the cruise.

“The environmental leg of the voyage will include using a remote operated vehicle (ROV) to examine conditions on the sea floor in various parts of CRP’s licence area.

CRP holds an exploration licence over 4276 sq km, 450 km east of Wellington, at shallow depths on the Chatham Rise and in New Zealand territory.  CRP has now entered the second two-year period of its exploration licence and has priority rights to apply for a mining licence. 

New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals has approved the testing work.

The second leg of the cruise later this month will focus on gathering geotechnical information to assist Boskalis in the design of extraction technology, expected to be based on existing dredging mechanisms, adapted for seabed conditions.

CRP has already used the Dorado Discovery for a preliminary information-gathering cruise, before Christmas, and in February to test grab sampling machinery. These data are currently being collated and analysed and are being used to inform the priorities of the current cruise.

The data and images collected over the current New Zealand summer involve the most significant research work undertaken of the Chatham Rise since the German vessel Sonne’s major cruise in 1981 as part of efforts by a New Zealand-German joint venture to evaluate the commercial viability of the area’s rock phosphate deposits.

The Dorado Discovery, operated by Odyssey Marine Exploration (NASDAQ:OMEX), is specially equipped for marine mineral exploration and has been undertaking such work in the south-west Pacific for the last 15 months.

Benefits of the project include:

  • New Zealand controlled: The project’s owner holds 100% of the licence area estimated to contain a 15-year supply of rock phosphate for the New Zealand market
  • Known costs and technology: Mining concept studies indicate an extension of existing technology can extract the resource from the seabed for much less than the cost of buying it and importing it from Morocco
  • Economic benefits: This project could significantly reduce New Zealand’s exposure to foreign exchange risk while improving its balance of payments position by reducing imports and/or generating export earnings.
  • Environmental benefits: The phosphate can be applied directly, is more effective than super-phosphate and very low in cadmium.  The technologies used will minimise seafloor disturbance, there will be a lower carbon footprint through reduced transport requirements, and extraction will intermittently affect a total footprint of less than 1/1000th of the Chatham Rise seafloor.

Chris Castle
021 55 81 85