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After space, deep ocean is next on India's exploration cards

Cabinet committee approves Rs 4,077-cr Deep Ocean Mission

robot-under-water-sea-ship-shut Representational image | File

After working on sending a manned mission to space, India will develop a manned vehicle to dive six kilometres deep into the ocean for exploration and mining. With an aim to boost deep ocean exploration and develop related technologies, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the Deep Ocean Mission with an estimated cost of Rs 4,077 crore. 

The mission aims to develop capabilities for deep sea mineral mining, and development of a manned vehicle that can go six kilometers deep in the ocean. First announced in the last budget, the mission has been in planning for several years. Once deep sea vehicles are developed, India will be part of the elite club to have that capability. Last year, China tested its deep ocean manned vehicle that reached 10 kilometres deep into the ocean.

“The Deep Ocean Mission is directed towards capacity development in marine biology, which will provide job opportunities in Indian industries. In addition, design, development and fabrication of specialised equipment, ships and setting up of required infrastructure are expected to spur the growth of the Indian industry, especially the MSME and start-ups,” the CCEA statement said.

According to officials, technologies required for deep sea mining have strategic implications and are not commercially available. Hence, the 'Deep Ocean Mission' will attempt to indigenise technologies by collaborating with leading institutes and private industries. For this purpose, a research vessel for deep ocean exploration would be built in an Indian shipyard that would create employment opportunities.

With an estimated cost of Rs 4,077 crore, the mission will be implemented in a phase-wise manner for next five years. The estimated cost for the first phase for the three years (2021-2024) would be Rs 2,823.4 crore. Deep Ocean Mission will be a mission mode project to support the blue economy initiatives of the Centre, and Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) will be the nodal ministry implementing this multi-institutional ambitious mission.

The Deep Ocean Mission consists of the six major components. The key element will be development of technologies for deep sea mining, and manned submersible. “A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 m in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools. Only a few countries have acquired this capability. An Integrated Mining System will also be developed for mining Polymetallic Nodules from 6,000-m depth in the central Indian Ocean.

"The exploration studies of minerals will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, a UN organisation. This component will help the blue economy's priority area of exploring and harnessing of deep sea minerals and energy,” the cabinet statement said.

The mission will also aim for development of ocean climate change advisory services to provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales. The mission will carry out technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity.

The deep ocean survey and exploration will identify potential sites of multi-metal hydrothermal sulphides mineralisation along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges. The mission will also promote detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC)-powered desalination plants. During the mission, an advanced marine station for ocean biology will be set up.

The Deep Ocean Mission assumes significance as the ocean is a major economic factor supporting fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, livelihoods and blue trade in India. India has its three sides surrounded by the oceans and around 30 per cent of the country's population living in coastal areas.

“Oceans are also a storehouse of food, energy, minerals, medicines, modulator of weather and climate, and underpin life on Earth. Considering the importance of the oceans on sustainability, the UN has declared the decade, 2021-2030 as the decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. India has a unique maritime position. Its 7,517-km long coastline is home to nine coastal states and 1,382 islands. The government of India's vision of New India by 2030 enunciated in February 2019 highlighted the blue economy as one of the ten core dimensions of growth,” the CCEA statement said.