Anglo American to exit stake in deep sea mining company
Anglo American is set to end its investment in a controversial deep sea mining company that is trying to develop a gold and copper deposit off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
“We are in the process of exiting our small minority shareholding in Nautilus Mining, as part of the prioritisation of our portfolio on our largest and greatest potential resource assets,” an Anglo American spokesman told the Financial Times.
Interested by the company’s technology — it was never involved with work on the deposit — Anglo took a 10 per cent stake in Nautilus back in 2006, which it later increased to 11 per cent.
As Nautilus has raised money to develop the Solwara project, 1.6km below the surface of the Bismarck Sea, Anglo’s shareholding was diluted down to 4 per cent. It is that interest it is now looking to exit.
“In terms of financial and reputational risk, Anglo American have chosen a good time to be exiting,” said Andy Whitmore of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign. “But for Nautilus it looks like it could not have come at a worse time, and may well be the final nail in the coffin for this dangerous experiment”.
Environmental campaigners have slammed the project, which is proposing to use three robotic machines weighing up to 310 tonnes to mine copper and gold from extinct hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.
Nautilus then wants to mix the ore with seawater to create a slurry, which can be drawn to the surface, stored and then put on other ships for transport. The extracted seawater is then pumped back to the seabed.
The Deep Sea Mining Campaign came says the project has been “questionable” from the start with independent reviews highlighting flaws in Nautilus’s environmental impact statement.
The underwater vehicles it wants to use were assembled in the north-east of England and have huge spikes like medieval cudgels that can tear through rock.
Nautilus, which counts Metalloinvest, Alisher Usmanov’s metals group, as its second biggest shareholder, warned last month that production from Solwara, originally scheduled for the third quarter of 2019, had been pushed back. It cited delays securing the remaining project financing and a production vessel for the setback.
Nautilus claims Solwara offers the prospect of extracting high grade minerals without the large overheads and long timescales of land-based mining. The company’s share price has slumped 94 per cent over the past seven years and it is now valued at just over $100m.
Nautilus could not be reached for comment.