Officially, the nascent deep-sea-mining industry is governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an intergovernmental organization established in 1996 by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)*. The authority’s critical task is to coordinate its 168 member nations in establishing and enforcing regulations for the developing deep-sea-mining industry.

But the ISA’s teeth are just coming in, says Duncan Currie, a legal advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an advocacy organization. At the moment, the authority still hasn’t created an enforcement agency. In addition, “they won’t and they can’t force countries to comply with ISA regulations when drafting their own laws,” says Currie.**


If there’s a difference between the country’s laws and those of the ISA, the company must meet the higher standard, says Mike Johnston, CEO of Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals Inc. Nautilus found its partner in the Tongan government, and has since been granted 75,000 square kilometers of prospective territory in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

The international regulations under development will also impact mining in national waters, since UNCLOS member states are required to pass laws that fall in line with international standards. But here again, the ISA does not have the power to compel nations to adopt provisions.