And Finally

Buried treasure

A major gold find off Shandong – 2,000 metres below the sea’s surface

Gold bars are seen at the United States West Point Mint facility in West Point, New York

The science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea introduced readers to Captain Nemo and his exploration of the ocean’s depths in the Nautilus.

Last week the Chinese press was also fixated on underwater exploring, although in this case not for marine biology but more in search of gold.

The find – near Sanshan Island just off the coast of Shandong – has been described by state news agency Xinhua as “a gold mountain under the sea” and a find of “epoch-making significance” for the country’s gold industry.

The Shandong Third Geology and Exploration Institute (STGEI) has been drilling in the seabed for about three years from a series of offshore platforms. And its patience has been rewarded with the discovery of China’s first offshore gold mine, which is estimated to hold 470 tonnes of the metal (any finds over 50 tonnes are categorised as ‘ultra large’ goldmines, according to Xinhua).

Based on current prices, the gold deposit could be worth as much as $16 billion.

The mine is located at a depth of 2,000 metres (in case you’re wondering about the ‘twenty thousand leagues’ of the Jules Verne title, that referred no to depth but the distance travelled by the Nautilus).

Therein lies the rub. Getting the gold out of the seabed more than a mile below the water’s surface will be tough, as website Goldseek points out, and recovering it might not be cost-effective unless the price of gold starts to move back towards $2,000-an-ounce from its current valuation at roughly half that level.

Then again, as Goldseek suggests, there is increasing interest in developing the requisite technology to mine gold from ocean depths. For example, a Times of India report says a local team is also exploring for gold near the three techtonic plates that meet near Mauritius in the southern Indian Ocean.

China is currently the world’s biggest miner of gold, and based on the first three quarters of this year, its output looks set to reach 476 tonnes in 2015.

Of course, news of the big find led to a flurry of activity among speculative investors and National Business Daily reports that Hong Kong-listed Zhaojin Mining had earlier bought the rights to the mine from STGEI. So those interested in punting the A-share market then focused their attention on the little known stock Yuyuan Tourist Mart, when it emerged that it owned 25.73% of Zhaojin.

Shares of Yuyuan traded up by their maximum daily limit on the heady prospect that its stake in the new underwater mine had increased its value by Rmb10 billion ($1.57 billion).

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