Debmarine Namibia, a 50-50 joint venture between De Beers Group and the Goverment of the Republic of Namibia, prospecting for marine diamonds in the Ocean off the Namibian Coast, produces around 1.4 million carats of marine diamonds annually, bringing in a revenue of more than NAD 10 billion (US$669.5 million) every year.
Hitherto Marine diamond mining was carried out by Debmarine Namibia by operating five diamond mining vessels, that comb the ocean floor and suck sediments from the seabed. The Ships bear the names Debmar Atlantic, Debmar Pacific, Grand Banks, Gariep and Mafuta. The ships employ two types of mining technologies, the airlift drill and the crawler mining technology.
In the year 2017, with a view of ramping up production from 1.4 million to over 2.0 million carats, the Company planned to construct a US$ 142 million ship-cum tanker, which was projected to be the world’s largest custom-built diamond mining vessel of length 176 metres (544 feet). The new vessel was expected to join the fleet by early 2022.
Debmarine Namibia entrusted the designing of the ship to marine engineers in Norway and Poland, but the actual construction of the ship was handed over to the renowned Damen Shipyards of Romania, which finished the job at a cost of US$ 470 million, much above the projected US$ 142 million.
The 177 metre ship, originally named as Additional Mining Vessel-3 (AMV3) was fitted with heavy equipment for sub-sea crawling extraction and subsequent processing of dredged material on board to sift the diamonds. The ship was officially handed over to Debmarine on the 18th and 19th August, 2021 at Damen Shipyards, Mangalia, Romania. The Ship then set sail from Damen Shipyards on a four-week long maiden voyage, to the Port of Cape Town, South Africa, where it was expected to be fitted with its proprietary mission equipment by De Beers Marine South Africa, befor beginning operations off the coast of Namibia, in early 2022.
The AMV3 is now the largest diamond recovery vessel in the world and the new Flagship of the Debmarine Namibia fleet. The vessel is expected to operate for at least 30 years, and create 160 high-skilled jobs for Namibian Citizens. The ship is expected to add an additional 500,000 carats of high-value diamonds to Debmarine’s annual production increasing it to over 2.0 million carats.
The AMV3 was officially renamed “Benguela Gem” and unveiled in Namibia by the country’s President His Excellency Hage Geingob at an inauguration ceremony held on March 18, 2022, and also attended by the Minister of Mines and Energy, the Honourable Tom Alweendo and De Beers Group CEO, Bruce Cleaver. The vessel was expected to commence operations from the following week, well ahead of its original schedule.
Commenting on the inauguration of the World’s most advanced marine diamond mining vessel, Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers Group, said: “The Benguela Gem is the first of its kind and represents an outstanding feat of engineering design, technology innovation and sustainability performance. Despite significant challenges presented by Covid-19, the project was delivered ahead of time and budget – a testament to the world-leading skill and expertise of all involved. The investment in this vessel will support a long term, sustainable future for Namibia’s diamond sector, which is home to some to the most sought-after diamonds in the world.”
CEO of Debmarine Namibia, Otto Shikongo, also commenting on the inauguration of the new vessel said, “As we gather here for the inauguration of this new vessel, just days before Namibia celebrates its 32 years of independence, bear testimony that we at Debmarine Namibia will continue to make our stakeholders proud by delivering real value for both our shareholders and the people of Namibia.”
Commenting in the same vein, Honourable Minister of Mines and Energy for Namibia Tom Alweendo said, “In a world where there is global competition for capital…the investment in this vessel is not just an investment in a diamond-recovery vessel. It is an investment in the future of Namibia.”
Namibia has the richest known marine diamond deposits in the world, with Debmarine Namibia extracting some of the highest quality diamonds available anywhere from water of between 90 – 150 meters deep off the Southwest coast of the country.
The Benguela Gem is a crawler ship, having a 280-ton mechanical arm, that moves in a horizontal arc, dredging material beneath the sea floor, upto a depth of 120 metres (400 feet). There is a sophisticated treatment plant onboard the ship, that sifts the diamonds from the dredged gravel. The gravel is then returned to the ocean, and the diamonds are automatically sealed into barcoded steel briefcases, and flown by helicopter three times a week to vaults back on dry land, in the capital city Windhoek to be graded subsequently. The unique thing is that no human hands touch the diamonds during the entire mining and production process at sea.