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De Beers Launches State-of-the-Art Diamond-Seeking Vessel

June 19, 2017

Outfitted with state-of-the-art sonar technology and drilling devices, the mv SS Nujoma is ready to start probing the ocean floor for valuable diamond deposits off the coast of Namibia. It's the sixth and most advanced vessel in De Beers's growing fleet.

Mining of Namibia’s diamonds — some of the most valuable in the world — takes place at about 120 to 140 meters below sea level.

The $157 million, 113-meter-long vessel incorporates unique technologies that allow it to sample faster, take larger samples and collect more information per sample than any other diamond sampling vessel. It generates sampling results at more than double the speed of its predecessor.

The new vessel was officially introduced Thursday at an inauguration ceremony, which was attended by De Beers and Namibian officials, including the ship's namesake, Namibia's founding president Sam Nujoma.

“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, De Beers Group. "The mv SS Nujoma will allow even more of Namibia’s high-quality offshore diamonds to be discovered and mined, ensuring a strong future for Namibia’s diamond industry, as well as the global diamond market.”

In 2016, Debmarine Namibia, a 50/50 joint venture between the Government of the Republic of Namibia and the De Beers Group, mined more than 1.2 million carats of high-quality diamonds off the shore of the southwestern edge of the African continent. According to The Wall Street Journal, the mining operation yields a handful of diamonds for every 180 tons of material processed.

De Beers predicts that it will take about 50 years to “mine out” the licensed area that covers 2,300 square miles. It starts about three miles offshore and extends into the ocean an additional 10 to 20 miles.

The partnership is the single biggest contributor to Namibia’s economy and delivers more than $781 million in revenue annually. Since 2002, Debmarine Namibia has been the only company in the world to mine diamonds offshore.

While sea-based diamonds account for just 4% of De Beers’s annual production by carat weight, they account for 13% by value. This is because 95% of the diamonds pulled from the ocean floor are of gem-quality. This compares to just 20% of gem-quality diamonds coming from De Beers’s top mine in Botswana. Some experts surmise that the diamonds in the ocean have endured such a pounding for so long that only the gem-quality ones could stay intact.

Geologists believe that many eons ago, the Orange River ferried precious diamonds from the center of South Africa westward all the way to the Atlantic coast — eventually scattering millions of carats across the ocean floor.

Credits: Images courtesy of De Beers; Map via Google Maps.