Nautilus Minerals has formed a joint-venture company (the Vessel JV) with German shipping company Harren & Partner to own and operate the production support vessel that will serve as the operational base for Nautilus’ Solwara 1 deep-sea mining project in the Bismark Sea off the north coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG) (E&MJ, March 2011, p. 16). The vessel will be the floating platform for the mobilization and remote operation of production machinery operating on the seafloor at water depths of approximately 1,600 m. The seafloor production tools will cut and gather ore that will be pumped in slurry form to the vessel, where it will be dewatered before transfer to barges for transport and subsequent treatment on shore.

Harren will design and construct the production support vessel at a cost of $167 million, with delivery scheduled for the first half of 2013. On delivery, the vessel will be sold to the Vessel JV, in which Harren will hold a 50.01% interest. The remaining 49.99% of will be controlled by Nautilus through a holding company in which the PNG government owns a 5% stake through its wholly-owned company Petromin PNG Holdings. The Vessel JV will charter the vessel to the mining joint venture, in which Nautilus holds a 70% stake and Petromin holds a 30% stake, to carry out its seafloor production operations for a period of eight years at an average daily rate of $70,000. Harren will provide crewing, logistics, and ship management services.

Harren has completed preliminary design for the vessel, which will have a length of 208 m, beam of 40 m, deadweight capacity of about 18,800 mt, and speed of 17 knots. The vessel will house generator sets producing 30 MW of power for the vessel, seafloor production tools, and associated pumping machinery and will have on-board accommodations for up to 160 people, including 30 maritime crew.

Other major pieces of equipment to be built prior to the start of mining operations include three remotely operated seafloor production machines and the riser and lifting system that will pump the slurry from the seafloor to the vessel.

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