9. “Controlling the Oceans”

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

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 profits.

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.