Taranaki seabed miner seizes Aussie ally for legal battle

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The company that plans to mine the South Taranaki seabed is selling it to a foreign partner as it continues the fight to get permission for the underwater exploration.

Students protest seabed mining plans in Pātea.
Photo: Delivered

Opponents of the project are adamant that ocean floor mining will never continue and hope the new owners know what they’re buying.

Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) seabed miners have agreed to exchange ownership of their company for 180 million new shares in Australian miner Manuka Resources.

Trans-Tasman’s Executive Director Allan Eggers and Director John Seton will then jump on Manuka’s board and effectively join forces with Australia’s newest gold and silver miner.

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TTR wants to suck up 50 million tons of the seabed in shallow water at Pātea every year to extract iron, titanium and vanadium.

The deal is conditional on TTR obtaining the necessary environmental permits and Manuka’s shareholders’ agreement.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) initially granted permission to mine the seabed and discharge 45 million tons of unwanted sediment back into the marine environment each year.

Last October — after a seven-year legal battle by a dozen IWI, fishing companies and environmental groups — the Supreme Court overturned those permissions and sent the application back to the EPA.

The prospectors remain optimistic: Manuka Resources told the Australian Stock Exchange it expects to win back clearances when the EPA reconsiders “five narrowly defined cases” early next year.

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“TTR believes it has passed the testing set by the Supreme Court and does not expect any further scope to challenge the regranting of the consents.”

But the path may not be so simple: The Supreme Court urged the EPA to take a “broad and generous” view of its Treaty of Waitangi obligations, taking into account tikanga and kaitiakitanga.

Manuka’s buyout statement did not specify how the renewal application would meet this standard.

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Debbie Ngarewa-Packer says the so-called seabed miners have always underestimated iwi and the significance of kaitiakitanga, mana whenua and Te Tiriti.
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Māori party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Ngāti Ruanui said TTR was out of touch with how Taranaki now views seabed mining.

“They have always underestimated iwi, they have always underestimated the weight, the meaning of our kaitiakitanga and mana whenua, the meaning of the Tiriti – they have always underestimated us.”

“What’s really great is that there’s a better understanding of indigenous rights and tangata whenua rights than when we started 8 or 9 years ago… there’s a different push.”

The tumu whakarae (chairman) of Te Kāhui o Rauru, Mike Neho, said in October that the Supreme Court victory showed that iwi values ​​can win legal battles.

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“This is the first time kaitiakitanga and tikanga have been tested at this level of the law and this will be a game changer for the recognition of iwi interests and decisions about the environment.”

TTR said the sediment would set back harmlessly to the seafloor, but opponents argued that the debris plume and mining noise would harm marine mammals and other marine life.

The Court told the EPA that if it could not set conditions that prevent environmental damage, the discharges should be banned and the application rejected.

Ngarewa-Packer said seabed mining was “environmental vandalism and would wreak havoc on marine life and coastlines for decades to come.”

Eggers said the Manuka deal values ​​TTR at $50 million, or $200 per share — a mark-up on the recent $125 issuance — and that Trans-Tasman shareholders would get about 37 percent of Manuka Resources.

The deal would give the hitherto private TTR mining plan access to capital from Australia’s much larger publicly traded market: Manuka would need to raise about $US600 million to set up mining.

Ngarewa-Packer said overseas sales were typical of the Taranaki mining industry.

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“They’ve done exactly what we predicted 5 or 6 years ago — this is a normal track we’re seeing within the industry.”

“If you’re going to do that much desecration in our waters, we expect our oceans to have a lot more confidence about how long you’ll be around.”

“What we have is the language of typical capitalist investors where they resell it: they’ve made it seem to the future shareholders – who probably don’t know much about it – that it’s all over.”

While Manuka Resources is a minnow in the vast pond of Australian mineral extraction, the sums involved in extracting the South Taranaki bend are not small.

According to the exchange’s announcement, it would cost $93 million a year to run the ocean operation.

At current prices, that would give the company a profit of $560 million a year from iron ore and another $663 million from vanadium – not counting freight and onshore overheads. Healthy payouts from the bonanza would largely flow to shareholders across the Tasman.

Manuka is expected to be one of New Zealand’s largest exporters, employing up to 250 operational and 50 administrative staff, indirectly creating a further 165 Taranaki jobs in support, engineering, logistics and port operations.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air

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