In March 2007, Nautilus Minerals Inc announced that it has commenced its 2007 exploration and development programme with the mobilisation of the research vessel Wave Mercury and the survey vessel Aquila onsite Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The vessels are returning to the territorial waters of PNG after completing similar exploration work during 2005/2006, to commence a three phase seabed massive sulphide deposit exploration programme on the 100% Nautilus owned Solwara 1 Project. The first two phases of this campaign will concentrate on completion of environmental studies, seabed deposit mapping, sampling and geophysical studies - altogether a scheduled 60 day endeavour. Phase 3 is scheduled to be a further 120 day activity in the Solwara 1 location, involving drilling and sampling at pre-determined targets.

These drilling activities, scheduled to commence in early June 2007, will be executed using two off specialist ROV mounted drilling/coring rigs performing coring and drilling activities at water depths in the +2000m range. These ROV mounted rigs, Rovdrill® will be provided by Perry Slingsby Systems Inc of Jupiter, Florida, USA, and will be operated by Canyon Offshore Inc, a Helix Energy Solutions Company based in Houston - a world renowned remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operating entity.

This paper will describe the conception of Rovdrill®and its subsequent design, development and field testing. The pros and cons of this new technology and the potential further applications of the equipment in the Geotechnical survey and subsea construction market are also discussed.

Conception of Rovdrill®and Pre-Existing Equipment

One of the primary drivers for the development of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) mounted drill/coring rig was to provide a system which would be based around proven drilling technology and readily available equipment, but at the same time would not need to rely on expensive and limited supporting resources, such as drill ships, for its deployment and operation. A system that could be readily mounted to, and interfaced with, a variety of ‘equipment of opportunity’ such as work-class ROV systems and their associated existing support vessels, with the minimum amount of subsequent reconfiguration of these host resources, clearly presented a very practical and economical proposition to those enterprises engaged in the business of deepwater seabed surveying and sampling.

While the Rovdrill®is the world's first true ROV mounted and operated drilling and coring rig to be commercially developed and supplied to a live project, there are currently a number of other remotely operated seafloor coring systems operating in the field, such as the Benthic Multicoring Systems - BMS-1 and BMS-2, built by Williamson and Associates of Seattle, and currently owned and operated by the Metal Mining Agency of Japan (MMAJ). These systems are ‘stand-alone’ and are highly capable, featuring a suite of instrumentation, cameras, lights, heading, altimeters, depth thrusters; they can operate at depths of 6000m and handle coring samples to 20m length. Other systems have also been successfully developed and trialled, including the British Geological Survey (BGS) range of equipment - Rock Drill 1 and 2, the BGS Oriented Rock drill, and the Geomar/Schilling developed MEBO.

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