Nautilus Minerals edges closer to world’s first underwater mine


It has been a long voyage, but Canada-listed copper-gold explorer Nautilus Minerals is on track to commence deep-sea mining operations at its Solwara 1 deposit in the Bismarck Sea, off Papua New Guinea. Business Advantage PNG talks exclusively to CEO Mike Johnston about the project.

Nautilus has recently taken delivery of three seafloor mining machines. Credit: Nautilus Minerals

Nautilus has recently taken delivery of three seafloor mining machines. Credit: Nautilus Minerals

The company expects to commence operations at the world-first underwater mining project in the first quarter of 2018.

Nautilus Chief Executive Officer, Mike Johnston, tells Business Advantage PNG that has recently taken delivery of the three seafloor mining machines, collectively worth over $100 million.

‘It must be one of the only mining projects I know of in the world where we don’t end up with tailings.’

Johnston said construction of all the other hard components for the project—the riser and lifting systems that will be needed to convey minerals from deep below the ocean’s surface, and the huge floating vessel that will act as a refinery to process and refine the extracted material—were well on track.

Nautilus Minerals’ Mike Johnston

Nautilus Minerals’ Mike Johnston

Major boost

The Solwara 1 project received a significant added boost late last year when Nautilus signed an offtake agreement with the Chinese State Owned Enterprise Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group, under which Tongling will buy the bulk of all production from Solwara 1.

‘Under the deal, they have to take all our production up to 1.44 million tonnes,’ says Johnston. ‘However, we have the option to sell up to 20% of our product elsewhere if needs be.’

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He also confirmed that, under the new agreement, Tongling will take all the high-grade material produced from Solwara 1 directly to China, effectively removing all the associated tailings.

‘So, it must be one of the only mining projects I know of in the world where we don’t end up with tailings.’

Social benefits

Under separate Memorandums of Understanding with PNG’s New Ireland and East New Britain provinces, Nautilus is continuing to develop social programs in the regions adjacent to its mining activities.

These include the delivery of a water and sanitation program, which will see schools receive new toilets and freshwater infrastructure. The company has also completed site investigations for a number of river crossings in preparation for the construction of bridges along the west coast of New Ireland.

Nautilus is also working with the provincial government and other groups to explore other business opportunities in the region including the potential to revive its cocoa and copra industry.

‘We’re very conscious of the fact that it has to be a lasting legacy.’

‘There are different uses now coming through for cocoa and copra, so we’re trying to get that happening,’ he says.

A vessel used during ther Solwara 1 projects exploration phase. Credit: Nautilus Minerals

A vessel used during the Solwara 1 projects exploration phase. Credit: Nautilus Minerals

Local employment

Johnston added that other areas being considered by Nautilus included the potential to buy local food produce for its mining operation, and the opportunity to significantly boost local employment once the operation begins.

This could be achieved by running multiple worker shifts at the company’s sites.

‘There are people from the communities nearest to Solwara 1 who potentially will be able to do semi-skilled tasks when they’re trained,’ he says. ‘We have a CSR Strategic Plan, which is being delivered alongside the relevant provincial governments, which will see community-based programs delivered in the villages nearest to the project site.

‘But also we’re very conscious of the fact that it has to be a lasting legacy; there has to be infrastructure and community programs which can help build the foundation for a better life for the people.’


  1. Johnny Varengele says

    I think there should be more consultation with Indigenous People concerning the impact of Sea Bed Mining. Things in return to Indigenous People a very little compare to what will be taken from their property.

  2. PNG lacks tough environmental regulations and regulators to monitor and enforce tough measures to such projects to ensure the environment is not impacted by such activities. I hope Natilus comes into PNG with the same mind set to mining in a developed world. Indigenous people are not so educated but there are small environmental and human rights groups that are emerging in PNG with the help of social media and internet to get external support to defend and voice their concerns.

  3. Emad Ahmed says

    This is the first deep sea mining project. Once it succeeds, it will open the door for a multi billing biz and new promising industry to supply the minerals future demand.
    Previous environmental impact study way performed to prove no detrimental impact on the sea environment.
    The project is coming soon and the big vessel will be done by the end of next year to start production for 2 to 3 years.

  4. Pasira Stubbs says

    Just wondering how safe is it for this seabed mining, especially getting rid of the tailings. As mentioned above in this article, I have to wonder if the indigenous people are shown or educated on what is happening in their sea. The article mentioned that this is the first “SEABED” mining, how do we know it is going to be disaster free? The sea is indigenous peoples’ source of income and protein, as well as for leisure activity. The marine life is going to be affected.

    • Ian Collier says

      Where do you get indigenous people from there is a 99% plus people born in these islands area and PNG as never been colonised just administrated why is indigenous mentioned my wife is a full blood PNG and she certainly does not class herself in this way in fact she never heard this word before. This mining operation is controlled by the PNG National and provincial Governments plus it as inputs from local Landowner groups that have a say and these people were born and bred in PNG and again do not understand your words […]

      • Pasira Stubbs says

        The points made re: First Seabed mining is about the concerns regarding the seabed mining since it is the first of its kind. Second point is about education, have they(indigenous people) been fully involved in consultation and shown the environmental studies conducted and the likely risks. Third, peoples’ livelihood will be affected and the destruction on marine life.Examples: BHP mining disaster in Brazil and the Ok Tedi mine in PNG. The Fly River system is poisoned therefore people cannot fish in the river. In Brazil, the Doce River flooded with toxic mud after mining dam collapse which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Even with the well thought plans and the environmental studies, nothing is set in stone that everything will be okay.

  5. Ian james says

    I can see a future in this mining , as a specialist Poly weld technician this would be of benefit to work with your company , as I’ve see materials need to travel from floor to mothership, I’ve worked in gold mines in Png

  6. Ian Collier says

    Good luck move forward on this as a Engineering company based in PNG and Australia would like to be involved

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