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Ship back after probing sea riches
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08:16, March 18, 2009

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Two deep-sea areas could become future mining and medical resources for China.

The areas, one in the east Pacific Ocean and one in the southwest Indian Ocean, have been under study by China's biggest ocean research vessel, the Dayang Yihao, which returned to shore yesterday in Qingdao, Shandong province, after spending nearly one year at sea.

Tao Chunhui, the chief scientist on the Dayang Yihao, said his group discovered 11 hydrothermal vents in the two sea areas since they set off from Guangzhou in May. Hydrothermal vents are underwater fissures in the Earth's surface that release heated geothermic water.

Li Bo, deputy director of China Ocean Mineral Resources Research & Development Association (COMRA), an organization under the State Oceanic Administration, said the "target areas" could become mine resource hubs for China.

Scientists said research of hydrothermal vents has vital significance for seabed mine exploitation and medical science, and may even shed light on the origins of life.

"The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is working on rules for countries to apply for the privilege in the hydrothermal vents exploration and exploitation. China will sit pretty if we have more scientific preparation in this field," Li said.

In 2001, China was granted exclusive exploration rights and privileged exploitation rights by the ISA for polymetallic nodules (a rock rich in metals and of great economic interest), in a 75,000-sq-km area in the Pacific Ocean. That area was selected after 10 research cruises conducted by COMRA.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea said the international seabed area and its resources are "the common heritage of mankind". However, different countries are competing to learn more about this mysterious world, which may give them more influence in a field that holds great economic interest.

The first hydrothermal vent was discovered by the US in 1977 in the Pacific Ocean.

China did not find any hydrothermal vents until 2007, when the Dayang Yihao found one in the Indian Ocean.

"China started late in this area, that is why we need to pay more efforts to catch up with the developed countries, and to protect our nation's seabed rights and interests," said Jin Jiancai, secretary-general of COMRA.

Source: China Daily

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