A deep dive to assess India’s subsea wealth

The total cost of the vessel is estimated to be Rs 1,200 crore, a part of which will be from the Deep Ocean Mission, for which the Central government has allotted Rs 4,077 crore.

Published: 31st October 2021 04:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st October 2021 04:01 AM   |  A+A-

A deep sea mining trial expedition in April 2021 in the Central Indian Ocean.

A deep sea mining trial expedition in April 2021 in the Central Indian Ocean. (Photo | Express)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: For the first time, an indigenous state-of-the-art research vessel will be built by India to assess the abundance of natural resources stockpiled under the seabed. It will be an upgrade of existing research vessel Sagar Nidhi with enhanced operational capabilities, like an in-built weather radar, and powerful seismic equipment that can beam signals upto 300 m below the seabed.

M Ravichandran, secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), told The New Indian Express the new vessel will be ready to sail within two or three years. “A contract will be awarded by March next year. We are finalising the shipyard,” he said.

The total cost of the vessel is estimated to be Rs 1,200 crore, a part of which will be from the Deep Ocean Mission, for which the Central government has allotted Rs 4,077 crore. Ravichandran said the vessel will be the torchbearer in India’s efforts to extend its continental shelf area from 200 nautical miles (nm) to 350 nm. The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) creates a regime of governance for maritime zones that fall under national jurisdiction - namely the territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

A country’s territorial waters extend 12 nm from its coastal baseline and its EEZ up to 200 nm. India has exclusive economic rights to the first 200 nm of its continental shelf — the sloping seabed that forms part of the natural geological prolongation of its landmass. India can lay claim to an extended continental shelf by making a geological submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), up to a maximum distance of 350 nm from its coastal baseline.

Ravichandran said: “To make such a claim, we have to scientifically prove that the sediment in the extended area has similar properties to that of India’s area. This is where the new vessel’s additional capabilities come in handy.” India shares maritime boundaries with Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Many of these boundaries are such that there are overlapping claims, especially when it comes to the extended continental shelf.

Minister of State (Independent Charge) Earth Sciences Jitendra Singh, who took a short cruise on Sagar Nidhi on Saturday afternoon, said India commands a larger area than any other maritime country in the Indian Ocean. “We are entering into mutual agreements with many of these countries, but technologically we are far ahead and India can be a global leader in this area of science, where very few countries have expertise.”

India has invested heavily in exploring non-living resources in deep international waters for polymetallic nodules, cobalt crust and hydrothermal sulphides. Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) will be piloting the Deep Ocean Mission. In April this year, a 27-member scientific crew from NIOT created history by conducting the world’s deepest underwater locomotion trials of an indigenously-developed seabed crawler-based mining machine in the Central Indian Ocean Basin.

NIOT director SA Ramadass told The New Indian Express  the new vessel can accommodate up to 35 scientific personnel, compared to 25 in Sagar Nidhi. “More scientific and diversified experiments and studies can be carried out in a time-bound manner.”

Veiled wealth

The oceans have abundant mineral resources like polymetallic nodules; cobalt rich manganese crust and hydrothermal deposits

Polymetallic nodules have economically-valuable metals such as copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese and are viewed as potential resources for the depleting land resources and increasing demand

Polymetallic nodules are found in abundance at Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) in depths of 5,000-6,000 m. An area of 75,000 sq km in CIOB was allocated by the preparatory commission International Seabed Authority (ISA), UN, to the Government of India


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