9. "Controlling the Oceans"
The race to control the ocean floor involves the following interests:
consortium of three multinational corporations, 20 transnational corporations
from six developed nations, and 110 Third World nations represented
by the U.N.'s annual Law of the Seas Conference. What is at stake is
1.5 trillion tons of mineral wealth and who controls production and
Little is known about the sea bottom or its role in maintaining the
planet's environment. Its sediment is rich in microscopic organisms
and animal life. Mining companies admit that their hydraulic dredges
and continuous line buckets will stir up the sediment and probably kill
any plant or animal life in their path. They argue that the environmental
costs are "insignificant."
The Ocean Mining Associates have filed mining claims extending far
over the Pacific where the State Department has no control. American
policy has tended to support these claims by multinationals in their
conflicts over who controls these regions.
The U.N.-supported Law of the Seas Conference has been ongoing since
1958. It discusses fishing rights, territorial waters, and international
straits. In 1969, a resolution was passed saying that the ocean floor
was a "common heritage of mankind." Third World nations interpreted
this to mean that all mining would be done under U.N. control. The American
position supports private corporations, that have the capital and resources,
to begin underseas mining and be taxed on their profits to help the
U.N. project start.
Third World nations are arguing for conservation of underseas minerals
until land-based minerals are consumed. They also fear that multinationals
will tend to neglect Third World needs, and windfall profits by multinationals
will serve developing nations. Also at stake is the control over the
ocean area. Third World nations will not have access to the oceans,
as the mining companies will.
Because of the importance of life and the depletion of mineral and
energy resources, the development of the ocean floor has great rewards.
The lack of publicity about the Law of the Seas Conference and its significance
for the United States, Third World nations, and the multinational interests,
qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best censored
stories of 1977."
"Race to Control the Sea Floor," by David Helvarg, In These
Times, December 14-20, 1977, p. 7.