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Debmarine Namibia’s «Benguela Gem» makes its mark in marine diamond mining

25 july 2022

Debmarine Namibia, a 50:50 joint venture between De Beers and the Namibian government, increased its production by 96% in the second quarter of the year to 488 000 carats compared with 249 000 carats, a year earlier.

Data released by De Beers also showed that Debmarine Namibia improved its first half output by 73% to 863 000 carats from the previous year's 498 000 carats.

The strong showing from Debmarine helped boost De Beers' Namibia production by 67% to 600 000 carats during the second quarter.

Of all the four countries De Beers has operations in, only Namibia registered an increased production.

The increase was attributed to the continued strong performance of the «Benguela Gem» diamond recovery vessel previously known as the AMV3.

«Benguela Gem» was commissioned in the first quarter of the year ahead of schedule and below budget.

Image credit: De Beers

The diamond mining vessel is expected to add 500,000 carats of high-value diamonds to annual marine production, an increase of around 45%, following an investment of about $420 million.

"The «Benguela Gem» is the first of its kind and represents an outstanding feat of engineering design, technology innovation and sustainability performance," said De Beers chief executive Bruce Cleaver last March.

"The investment in this vessel will support a long-term, sustainable future for Namibia's diamond sector, which is home to some of the most sought-after diamonds in the world."

Then Anglo chief executive Mark Cutifani said the commissioning of the «Benguela Gem» marked further progress towards the group's margin-enhancing organic growth of more than 20% over the next three years.

"This additional vessel further enhances the production of some of the highest quality and value diamonds in the world, while delivering sustained economic benefits for Namibia," he said.

The «Benguela Gem» is a custom-built vessel that combines the latest technology and fully integrated design to achieve unrivalled efficiency, reliability and accuracy.

A state-of-the-art dynamic positioning system automatically optimises the vessel's performance in changing weather conditions to minimise energy use.

Namdeb's 2021 production was 1.5 million carats from the previous year's 1.4 million carats, reflecting an increase from the remobilisation of most vessels in late 2020.

Debmarine Namibia had five diamond recovery vessels before the arrival of Benguela.

Looking at the growth in output during the second quarter and first half of the year, it is safe to say that De Beers will this year see the Namibian operation as the most improved compared to its Botswana, Canadian and South African operations.

The improved marine output comes at a time when the output of Namdeb's land-based operations had been on a decline.

The land-based Namdeb operations would have come to the end of their life at the end of 2022 due to unsustainable economics.

However, Windhoek offered Namdeb royalty relief from 2021 to 2025, with the royalty rate during this period reducing from 10% to 5%.

This effectively helped Namdeb to extend its land-based operations by up to 20 years.

Namibia's mines Minister Tom Alweendo said last October that the Namdeb land-based mines' closure at the end of 2022 would have had a serious impact on Namibia's economy.

"Therefore, it was imperative to safeguard this operation for the benefit of sustaining the life of mine for both the national economy as well as preserving employment for our people and the livelihoods of families that depend on it," he said.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished