On 29 March 2018, Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals Inc. launched the world’s first deep sea mining production support vessel—Nautilus New Era— at the Mawei shipyard in China. The vessel will be used by Nautilus and its partner, Eda Kopa (Solwara) Limited at the Solwara 1 Project site, in the Bismarck Sea of Papua New Guinea. Nautilus has contracted to charter, but not own, the vessel, which is a hybrid of a mobile offshore drilling unit, a cargo ship, and various special purpose ships.

Mike Johnston, Nautilus’ CEO commented at the launch, “Today’s launch is a significant milestone for the Company and the deep-water seafloor mining industry.”

The vessel will generate power, house the mining crew, provide a platform for the launch, recovery and servicing of the seafloor production tools, and provide a place for dewatering and temporary storage of mineralized material before shipment to offtakers for further processing, smelting, and precious metals recovery.

Broken mineralized material will be pumped to the surface via the riser and lifting system directly to a dewatering plant, which is located on Nautilus New Era. The dewatering plant is the only mineral processing function that will occur at Solwara 1. From an environmental management perspective, this means that no surfactants, filter aids, or other processing chemicals will be used in operation of the dewatering plant, which will reduce water content of the mineralized material to approximately 10%.

The dewatered mineralized material will be loaded directly onto Handymax-sized vessels that come alongside Nautilus New Era to carry the material away for further processing. Other than dewatering, no minerals processing activities will occur at sea. Nautilus has agreed to sell the mineralized material to the Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Company, Ltd.

Johnston added, “We believe that mining the seafloor for much needed minerals will be a more cost effective and environmentally friendly source of obtaining high grade copper, gold and silver. Nautilus further differentiates itself from others by having a “first-mover advantage” which is protected by intellectual property and 20 patents. Once our new vessel is delivered, and subject to final funding, mining operations at 1600m water depth is anticipated to commence in late 2019.”

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