This image appeared in Vortex online last year, with the caption: "Oil, gold, silver, medicinal products that could cure cancer and HIV could be found in our ZEE (exclusive economic zone)

Economy and Sea: why have ministries been combined?

Livre asks inconvenient question as former oil boss takes helm

Livre – a tiny party about to take up a new seat in parliament – has been the first to challenge ‘the elephant in the room’ of António Costa’s masterplan for the new executive.

Why have the ministries of economy and the Sea been combined? Particularly as they are under the auspices of the former CEO of Partex Gas and Oil?

What does it mean?

The inspirational choice of Ricardo Serrão Santos as Minister of the Sea in the last government – Serrão Santos being a biologist and lecturer, with huge affinity with the Azores – delivered a scientist who made no bones about the backstage rubbing of hands over the potential wonders of deep-sea mining (for ‘wonders’ read ‘profits to be made’).

They “would compromise the archipelago’s biodiversity”, he warned; they were “not needed, particularly as the world has sufficient mineral resources it can mine on land…”

Environmentalists and conservationists – political parties like Livre – breathed sighs of relief.

But fast-forward through pandemic and political crisis, and now the very man who  admitted in 2020 that the way ahead was to “reinforce Portugal’s international presence” when it comes to ‘the petrochemical cluster, and that “exploration of the sea can be a source of wealth” (admittedly, ‘only if done on the basis of informed decisions that safeguard natural heritage’…), is suddenly in charge, not only of driving the national economy, but overseeing its vast expanses of sea.

Livre’s MP and leader Rui Tavares has come right out and said it: he thinks this is “a mistake”.

He told Lusa “we do not want the Sea to be regarded as a resource for deep-water mining”.

With the greatest respect to PM Costa’s choice for a new man at the helm of the economy,  Rui Tavares stressed that man’s “journey (up until now) is very connected to fossil fuels…”

Indeed, if one looks back through archive stories, António Costa e Silva has been very keen for deep-sea mining to take place in the Azores, believing resources off the archipelago could yield minerals that are “strategically fundamental”.

Readers may remember the zeal to ‘harness the wealth’ of Portugal’s ocean territory. It has been buzzing away in ministerial offices for years, and has never sounded very healthy, if one listens to scientists’ points of view.

The writing has always been on the wall. It just got a whole lot clearer yesterday.