The New Ireland civil and community groups have been opposing the Nautilus Solwara mining project, for more than a decade, in the Bismarck Sea because of the damage it causes to the environment. Nautilus formed a PNG subsidiary, with the government acquiring 15 per cent share, after they discovered copper and gold deposits on the sea floor.
Now debt laden, Nautilus is trying to sell its assets and this has got the groups wanting the cancellation of its licenses. Backed by the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights, the groups are seeking the disclosure of the licenses and other documents, which the government is constitutionally bound to produce. However, the court has not yet passed a decision.
Peter Bosip, the centre's executive director, said reasons for withholding the decision is not known. Bosip said it is like holding the people at ransom. "We need to know whether we lost or we were successful in this instance. But we don't know and are still waiting."
Sir Arnold Amet, the former chief justice who also wants the licenses canceled, said if the documents were released, it might show that the government is liable for the company's debts was was unable to sell its stake. He said the court should also reveal if the government could acquire or cancel the licenses. "All of those are going to be packaged and put on the market for any potential bidders. So, our abilities to actually extricate ourselves from those binding licenses and agreements and to free ourselves from ongoing liabilities may be limited considerably by the current legal entitlements of Nautilus in the region."
And given the company's financial strife, Bosip says it would be futile for the government to continue to back Nautilus. He said the government also has to realize that the fight to reject deep sea mining in PNG is not over.