Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  27 May 2010

VENTURES: Changing Marine Diamonds Scene


Recent Western Cape Business News

HOW the marine diamond mining scene off-shore Namibia and South Africa has changed in recent years. From the mid-80s to the mid-90s in the previous century a number of mining hopefuls created a mini ‘diamond rush’, mainly launched from Cape Town, who scrambled to get hold of the precious stones lying at the bottom of the sea.

Names such as Namco, Ocean Diamond Mining, Benco, DFI and Transhex all tried their hands at great cost, at what promised to be lucrative takings. Most all of those efforts came to naught, their names now largely forgotten.

But then there is De Beers Marine, also Cape Town-based, who is still persevering, making it the only survivor of the lot. And whilst it has had some set-backs, the future still looks promising.

At the beginning of last year the De Beers diamond mining and exploration armada was laid up in Saldanha Bay for some two months to provide it with a production break and maintenance opportunity. The fleet included the Grand Banks, Debmar Atlantic, Debmar Pacific, Gariep, Ya Toivo, Coral Sea and the Peace in Africa.

The break was in line with De Beers Consolidated’s statement at the time that it had evaluated the business environment and, considering the then world’s economic melt-down, an easing off in production was necessary.

Diamond prices have recovered and the good news now is that the fleet is back in operation, but without the Grand Banks drill ship (it requires a capital injection) and the Ya Toivo, whose lease to De Beers came to an end.

At one time the fleet harvested up to one million carats a year off the Namibian coast, with the new addition Peace in Africa mining 240 000 carats off South Africa on the Namaqualand coast.

De Beers Marine general manager in Cape Town Burger Greeff tells CBN the reduction in the fleet at sea is in line with the current world economic situation, where the emphasis has moved from maximum production to rather focus on improved productivity – that is, improved profitability per carat produced.

The target in this gradual recovery period is for 600 000 carats mined per annum off-shore of Namibia. The Peace in Africa has a target of 200 000 carats, but whereas it was originally intended for mining off-shore the SA coastline, it will spend half a year in Namibian waters for a trial in that geological terrain, where the gems are generally of higher value.

It’s a leaner operation, but it’s paying for itself, with all indications that it will be around for a long time still to come; a bit like diamonds forever.


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