Cook Islands Parliament approves amendments to Seabed Minerals Act

Photo: Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority

A Bill seeking to improve the overall seabed minerals regime was passed in Parliament Monday. 

Prime Minister Mark Brown presented the Seabed Minerals Amendment Bill 2024 for its second and third readings. 

The minister responsible for seabed minerals emphasised that the Bill introduces no major policy changes but rather aims to refine the existing regime. 

There were six amendments to the Seabed Minerals Act proposed in this Bill. 

They included the use of terms mining and minerals harvesting, standards and guidelines, due diligence recovery cost, information management, amending the annual reporting period to match the dates from which the licences are granted, as opposed to following a calendar year, and a process for a company that chooses to change its name. 

Brown said the amendments would apply to the three companies currently exploring Cook Islands waters. 

Speaking about the use of the terms mining and minerals harvesting, Brown told Parliament that mining is a broad term which ranges from extraction through to digging and cutting. 

“The clear feedback from our stakeholders and communities is that the preferred to use a specific term when we are referring to collecting nodules from the sea floor – so we have introduced the term ‘minerals harvesting’ to reflect the actual activity that takes place.” 

He said the standards and guidelines support the implementation of the Act and Regulations, and they were previously set out in the Exploration Regulations. 

“These Standards and Guidelines have now been elevated to the Seabed Minerals Act – and the process for developing them has been further refined, and now also includes a requirement for Cabinet approval.” 

Explaining the amendments to due diligence cost recovery, Brown said the Seabed Minerals Authority undertakes due diligence checks whenever companies propose to make management or governance changes. 

“These due diligence checks are costly, and currently the Authority does not charge fees for this service. This amendment will make clearer that the Authority can prescribe cost recovery fees.” 

The final amendment was related to information management. 

Brown said: “We have made some minor refinements to sections 18 and 18A to make the intention of these sections clearer.” 

Section 18 and 18A of the Seabed Minerals Act 2019 states: “Further provisions about information disclosures. Nothing in this Act permits disclosure by any person of third party information that – (a) is prohibited from disclosure by another law of the Cook Islands or a court order…” 

Opposition leader Tina Browne supported the amendment, praising the accompanying policy document for its clear explanation of both minor and substantive amendments. 

The Rakahanga MP highlighted the importance of the amendment in improving the Seabed Minerals Act’s effectiveness and administrative efficiency. 

Browne said that there was a lesson to be learnt from this Bill, adding “when we rush Bills through Parliament this would be the result”. 

Despite her concerns about rushed legislation, Browne commended the effective measures taken to address the identified gaps in the Bill. 

“I have gone through the policy document and understand the amendments that are being made.” 

Prime Minister Brown clarified that the amendments were not a result of rushed legislation but rather part of a planned process of ongoing evaluation and improvement based on acquired knowledge. 

He said that since it was now two years into the exploration process, the Seabed Minerals Authority has been reviewing its laws and processes, identifying areas for improvement to ensure they are fit for purpose. 

“We are building a world leading seabed minerals sector based on best principles and practices, with an effective, robust legal framework, to benefit the Cook Islands and our people.” 

Brown added that this Friday, February 23, marked the second year of the exploration minerals programme, and he was pleased to see their goals becoming a reality and more opportunities created. 

He reiterated that they are only allowing exploration to take place at this stage and not contemplating harvesting.  

“Anyone who says that the Government is going ahead with harvesting is peddling misinformation,” he said.

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