Nautilus CEO Says Firm Will Take Steps to Protect Ocean

TORONTO (CP) -- The head of a Vancouver company that hopes to blaze a new trail in deep-sea mining is taking issue with an article in the journal Science that claims his company's proposed project could threaten fragile marine ecosystems.

David Heydon, Nautilus Minerals chief executive, said in an interview from Vancouver on Friday he's ''disturbed and concerned about it'' and said the article's authors didn't contact him.

Nautilus Minerals [TSXV: NUS] has raised US$300 million to undertake the world's first commercial undersea exploration for high-grade gold and copper off Papua New Guinea. Sulphide deposits there have shown to be rich in gold, copper, silver and zinc. Mining would begin in late 2009, if Nautilus secures a mining licence. The current licence is for exploration only.

Heydon said his company is in the midst of conducting an environmental assessment which is expected to take 10 more months and will be turned over to the Papua New Guinean government.

In the article published Friday, University of Toronto professor and geologist Jochen Halfar and his co-author, Rodney Fujita, a marine ecologist with U.S.-based Environmental Defence, claimed undersea habitats supporting rare organisms could be at risk from seafloor mining.

In an interview, Halfar claimed the process would involve releasing nutrient-rich deep sea water into surface sea water, altering the ecosystem, possibly causing algal blooms and metals released could contaminate local fisheries.

But Heydon said ''independent scientists'' including from Duke University and the University of Toronto are ''advising us to put the water back down about 500 or 600 metres down before the tropical mixing layer.''

Heydon also said the company would break up baseball-sized particles containing copper and other metals and suck them into a pipe to the surface, so no plume would be created. He also said chemicals such as cyanide would not be used.

As for Halfar's call for an independent environmental assessment, Heydon said the scientists conducting Nautilus's assessment are free to publish their findings, even if they're unfavourable.

Heydon also said it's ''not true'' his company chose Papua New Guinea's territorial waters to avoid international rules. He said the area is in shallow waters that are protected from the wind and currents.

''It's got nothing to do with rules and regulations. It's just pure practical,'' said Heydon.

Initially Nautilus doesn't expect to make big money from the project, but in the long term, Heydon said, it hopes to.

(c) The Canadian Press 2006

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