Future of diamond mining in the sea

By Magreth Nunuhe

WALVIS BAY – Having the richest marine diamond deposits in the world, Namibia has set its sights on the ocean as the output of marine diamond production continue to enormously outstrip production of the precious stones on land.   

Last year, marine diamond production yielded 1.17 million carats, while land operations generated 403,000 carats, contributing over billions of dollars in revenue.

Namibian diamond mining takes place at around 120 to 140 metres below sea level.

In the next 15 years, it is estimated that diamond production on land in Namibia will run out and that 95 percent of diamond production will come from the sea.

With approximations that the 3,700 miles squared concession area at sea on the south-west coast of Southern Africa will provide plenty of gemstones for the next 50 years, De Beers Group and Debmarine Namibia inaugurated the world’s most advanced exploration vessel, dubbed the mv SS Nujoma at the coastal town of Walvis Bay on 15 June 2017.

“We are delighted to officially welcome the mv SS Nujoma to our fleet. The important collaboration between all parties involved, and the exceptional efforts of those who worked on the vessel’s construction, fitting and sea trials, has seen this impressive vessel delivered three months ahead of schedule and on budget,” said Debmarine Namibia CEO, Otto Shikongo

The mv SS Nujoma was named after the Founding President of Namibia, Sam Nujoma and was purchased at a record N$2.3 billion (US$157 million).

The 12,000 tonne, diesel-electric powered vessel has advanced exploration capabilities, incorporates a range of unique technologies that allow it to sample faster, take larger samples and collect more information per sample than any other diamond sampling vessel.

The 113 metres long, deep-water diamond exploration and sampling vessel built by Kleven Verft shipbuilding group in Ulsteinvik, Norway, can accommodate a crew of 80 and has a helicopter deck suitable for Sikorsky S61s.

The vessel was fitted with a large drilling system capable of collecting 48 seabed samples a day. The process plant aboard the ship employs screening, scrubbing and other methods to upgrade the product.

Resource mapping will be performed using side scan sonar, chirp sub bottom and airgun profilers, multi-beam echo-sounders, and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).

The vessel will support mining operations on the ocean floor at water depths between 90m and 150m.

The on-board navigation and communication equipment includes a satellite navigator, an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS), a compass, autopilot and radar systems, a speed log, an automatic identification system (AIS), a voyage data recorder (VDR), radio equipment, helicopter beacon and monitoring solutions.

The advanced equipment and systems fitted on the SS Nujoma will allow it to carry out tracking, positioning and surveying operations.

The vessel was constructed and fitted with its subsea sampling system, designed by De Beers Group, in Cape Town, South Africa.

It complements Debmarine’s existing vessels, Debmar Atlantic, Debmar Pacific, !Gariep, Grand Banks and Mafuta.

It is anticipated that with the mv SS Nujoma, more high quality offshore diamonds will be discovered and mined, ensuring a strong future for Namibia’s diamond industry.

The mv SS Nujoma is scheduled to start commissioning in Namibian waters at the end of June 2017 and is expected ensure sustainable diamond production levels long into the future.

“Offshore diamond mining is becoming increasingly important in meeting global demand for diamonds as many of the major onshore deposits have now been discovered,” said Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers Group.

Diamonds are the most economically significant mineral commodity produced by the mining industry of Namibia and the country produces about 2 percent of the world’s gem-quality.

Mining is the biggest contributor to Namibia’s economy in terms of revenue and accounts for about 25 percent of the country’s income with the majority of revenue coming from diamond mining.

The six mining resources are diamonds, gold, coal, uranium, copper, and rare earth minerals.

“Today, we are witnessing first hand that the local mining industry is well-placed to lead the world in mining innovation and there is consensus that it is true innovation that will drive the next wave of productivity gains in financial growth. If we do not follow the innovation route, our extractive resources will become a curse instead of a blessing,” said Namibia’s Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila.

De Beers Group is a member of the Anglo American plc group. Established in 1888, De Beers Group is the world’s leading diamond company with expertise in the exploration, mining and marketing of diamonds, while Debmarine Namibia is the only company in the world to mine diamonds offshore, having started in 2002.

June 2017
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