World’s First Publicly Available Deep Sea Mining Licenses are Fraught with Errors and May be Unlawful, According to a Greenpeace UK Legal Analysis

May 12, 2021

"By using foreign subsidiaries and potentially shady legal practices, Lockheed Martin is endangering our oceans and side-stepping the will of the American people for their gain."

Greenpeace International activists paint the word 'RISK!' on the starboard side of Normand Energy, a vessel chartered by the Belgian company Global Sea Mineral Resources (GSR). The Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior is in the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Pacific to bear witness to the deep sea mining industry. Part of the ongoing 'Protect the Oceans' campaign.

© Marten van Dijl / Greenpeace

After nearly a decade of pressure from campaigners, the UK government has released the world’s first publicly available deep-sea mining licenses. The documents are “riddled with errors and inaccuracies,” with legal analysis suggesting the licenses may even be unlawful.

The licenses, between the British Government and a subsidiary of the American weapons giant Lockheed Martin, UK Seabed Resources (UKSRL), were granted based on outdated legislation and for a length of time beyond what UK law permits. The revelations raise international concern over the deep sea mining industry and reinforce the need for industry transparency through the International Seabed Authority.

Arlo Hemphill of Greenpeace USA’s Protect the Oceans campaign said:
“What is most troubling about GPUK’s findings is that a U.S. corporation has been using a foreign license to push a destructive new industry that the American people ultimately don’t want. By using foreign subsidiaries and potentially shady legal practices, Lockheed Martin is endangering our oceans and side-stepping the will of the American people for their gain.

The U.S. has not ratified the UN Law of the Sea and therefore is not eligible for deep sea mining licenses via the International Seabed Authority. Our government should seek to regulate this dangerous and novel industry, and Americans should have the chance to have a conversation about the risks deep sea mining places on our fragile oceans.

Deep sea mining can be highly destructive to some of the least understood and most vulnerable ecosystems on the planet. It may have unknown impacts on the climate via disruption of carbon sinks in the deep seabed. We can’t afford to continue harming the world’s oceans at the hands of dishonest corporations.”

After Greenpeace UK and Blue Marine Foundation conducted a legal analysis of the documents, Greenpeace UK lawyers have warned the British Government about the following:

  1. The licenses have been granted for a possibly unlawful length of time. [1]
  2. Are based on outdated legislation which is no longer fit for purpose. [2]
  3. Contradict the UK’s previous public commitments on following a precautionary approach. [3]
  4. Lack any clear provisions for Environmental Impact Assessments and detail exploration areas twice the size of those UKSRL is permitted to operate in [4]

This letter is available on request.

Just last week, one of the world’s first-ever deep sea mining tests in the Pacific Ocean resulted in a dangerous and humiliating failure for the industry when a 25-ton mining machine was left stranded on the seafloor for days putting sensitive ecosystems at risk.



Crystal Mojica, GPUS Senior Communications Specialist, [email protected], 646-530-1581

Sol Gosetti, Media Coordinator for the Protect the Oceans campaign, Greenpeace UK: [email protected], +54 (11) 28313271 WhatsApp +44 (0) 7380845754

Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)


[1] UK law permits the granting of licenses for a maximum initial period of ten years only. This may be extended for successive periods of 5 years each. In this case, the licenses were granted 15 years from the date of signature, which is outside of the Government’s legal powers, which suggests the licences are unlawful.

[2] The terminology used throughout the documents is based on legislation from 1981 (despite revisions having been made to UK legislation in 2014) which does not take into account developments over the past four decades in resource management and ocean and environmental law, including the UK’s accession to UNCLOS and the creation of the UN regulator, the ISA.

[3] The licenses state that the UK “shall” (i.e., “must,” in legal terms) sponsor UKSRL for exploitation if the company meets the conditions of this exploration license and successfully applies to proceed to full-scale mining operations. This undermines reassurances that UK ministers from the Foreign Office and Defra gave to MPs in March 2020 that, “The UK is using the precautionary principle in relation to deep sea mining and has agreed not to sponsor or support the issuing of any exploitation licenses for deep sea mining projects until there is sufficient scientific evidence about the potential impact on deep sea ecosystems and strong and enforceable environmental standards have been developed by the ISA and are in place.” BEIS officials confirmed this remains the UK’s position to Blue Marine Foundation and Greenpeace UK in January 2021.

[4] The exploration areas detailed in these licenses between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UKSRL are more than twice the size of the International Seabed Authority areas that have permitted UKSRL to operate. The International Seabed Authority has now allocated some of the additional area covered by the first UK contract to Ocean Mineral Singapore Pte Ltd, in which UKSRL holds a 19.9% holding. The detailed exploration areas also seem to overlap with part of the German-sponsored exploration area.

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