Mining giant Anglo American’s De Beers has launched a state-of-art £122 million ($156 million) exploration ship that will scan for diamonds on the seabed off the coast of Namibia. The mv SS Nujoma is equipped with sonar technology and a drilling device that can probe the ocean floor and take samples more quickly and efficiently than previous vessels.
Bruce Cleaver, De Beers’ chief executive, said the Nujoma was a “huge step forward” for the miner’s six-strong fleet in Namibia. “We’re particularly pleased with the technology on board, which is all bespoke to De Beers,” he said at a press conference. “It explores the targeted areas and defines those areas where there are better grades of diamonds.”
De Beers, which is majority owned by FTSE 100 company Anglo American, is currently the only miner in the world that looks for diamonds on the seabed. Its undersea mining, at a depth of up to 140m, is only carried out in Namibia, where it has a licence to operate until at least 2035. “I have no doubt there is life in the deposit beyond that,” Mr Cleaver said.
The 12,000-tonne vessel was built in Norway and fitted out in South Africa at a cost of $156 million. It has a crew of 80. The new ship is named after Namibia’s founding president, Dr Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma, who attended the inauguration ceremony with current prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa.
Nujoma is part of a joint venture between De Beers and the government of Namibia; the miner has been operating in the southern African nation since 2002. It produced 1.2m carats in 2016, delivering £185m to the country’s economy – making diamond mining Namibia’s biggest industry.
Mr Cleaver insisted “sustainable mining is at the heart of what we do”, and said that its operations in Namibia were in an area with no commercial fishing and little marine life. “We have a licence to mine 6,000 square miles – we will only have mined 3 per cent of that by 2020,” he added.
Diamonds are also important to Namibia as they generate 20 percent of its foreign export earnings. Namibia has a 50:50 joint venture with De Beers in Debmarine Namibia.
Marine diamonds are considered to be more valuable than land-based stones because lower quality gems are washed away by waves. Debmarine Namibia produced 1.2 million carats of diamonds in 2016, a level De Beers says it can maintain until 2035 when its license expires on a 6,000 square km area.