Namibia is one of the world’s largest producers of gem quality diamonds, with about 98% of diamonds produced being gem quality. Namibia produced a total of 1.4 Mct in 2003. In 2003 it was estimated that onshore operations account for about 55% of production and offshore operations for 45% operations.
It is estimated that over 100 Mct have been produced since mining began in 1908. Diamonds are mined along ancient river terraces along the banks of the Orange River, palaeo beach deposits along the south western and western coast of Namibia, as well as from marine deposits situated offshore. Namibia has the richest marine diamond deposits in the world, with an estimated reserve of over 1.5 billion carats. All of these deposits are secondary, with the diamonds originally being sourced from kimberlites in South Africa and transported via the Orange river and deposited at the mouth of the Orange River as well as along the coastlines of Namibia and neighboring South Africa. The considerable potential of these marine deposits has resulted in rapid advances in marine diamond extraction technology to the stage where marine diamonds represent about 56% of Namibia’s total diamond production. This figure is set to grow, as onshore reserves are gradually depleted.
Namdeb is Namibia’s largest diamond producer. Namdeb is an equal partnership with De Beers and the Namibian Government and is responsible for onshore mining operations as well as marine operations. Other major producers include Namco (which went bankrupt), Afri-Can Marine Diamonds, which is attempting to eveluiate and mine submarine river channels near Luderitz and Diamond Fields International.
Namdeb conducts opencast diamond mining operations over nearly 130 kilometres of the coastal strip northwards of the Orange River. De Beers Marine carries out deep-water mining on a contract basis for Namdeb. Alluvial diamond mining also occurs along the western coast and northbank of the Orange River.
Although most of Namdeb’s production is produced from onshore operations, this trend is to change with more emphasis being placed on marine diamond mining. De Beers Marine now operates six mining and survey vessels and produced 513,053 ct, mining some 2.5 km2, during 2002. Near shore and shallow marine operations suffered due to poor weather conditions. Namdeb’s resource estimates are not available, but are estimated at a minimum of ten years at current production rates.
A US$27 million project to convert the !Gariep to a drill-mining vessel at a UK shipyard on Tyneside was approved in August 2002; it will provide a 3 Mct production capacity during the vessel’s estimated 20-year operational life. Conversion was on schedule for completion by end-June 2003, some five months ahead of schedule and within budget, with the official handover to Namdeb due at the start of November 2003.
The ongoing dispute over the official border between South Africa and Namibia has resulted in several potential mining projects being placed on hold. The South African Government recognises the north bank of the Orange River to be the official border, whilst Namibian counterparts claim that the border should be located along the middle of the river channel. Naturally, these rulings will impact significantly on mining as well as agricultural industries. Plans to begin production from alluvial terraces on the northern banks of the Orange River by Namdeb have been put on hold pending a resolution on the border dispute. Namdeb plans to bring the Obib and Sendelingsdrift mines in 2004 and 2009, respectively.
Namco holds exclusive prospecting rights over five marine concessions totaling 5600 km 2 off the west coasts of Namibia (at Luderitz and Hottentots Bay) and South Africa. Namco have begun equipping the second of their mining vessels after a successful start to marine mining operations in 1998 and 1999. Production rose sharply from 100 000 carats in 1998 to over 250 000 carats for 1999. Following setbacks to Namco’s new mining tool, production in 2000 slumped to 221 000 carats. At the end of 2002 Namco suspended mining activities due to financial insolvency, and the subsequent placing of its operational subsidiaries into provisional liquidation.
The new mining vessel will increase production to over 300 000 carats per year, making Namco the world’s second largest marine diamond miner, as well as Africa’s second largest producer. However, ongoing teething problems with the new seabed crawler resulted in the unit being damaged – and as a result, Namco has had to arrange financing in order to avoid liquidation. This was achieved through the sale of the ODM vessel Ivan Prinsep to the DFI/Transhex joint venture for $4.4 million. The Leviev Group has also purchased an effective 31% of Namco, raising an additional $15 million. Whilst its seabed crawler is being fixed, the company’s other mining vessel mv Ya Toivo has resumed mining operations.
Canadian company Diamond Fields International (DFI) have completed feasibility studies over marine deposits located at their Marshall’s Fork feature in their Luderitz Bay concession. Approximately 2 Mct of resources have been identified, of which 437 000 carats are in the indicated category and 132 000 carats in the inferred category, for a total of 569 000 carats. DFI recovered a small quantity of diamonds in 1999, amounting to approximately 6700 carats. South African based Trans Hex initially teamed up with DFI in a joint venture to exploit parts of the DFI mining license (comprising the Marshall’s Fork feature as well as the Diaz 12 zone that was issued in 2000. Trans Hex provided the joint venture with two specially equipped mining and survey vessels, with production start up at the end of 2001. Production was fastracked via the acquisition of the mv Ivan Prinsep from Namco that will produce approximately 40 000 carats per year. The joint ventures’ second vessel (mv Namakwa) has been purchased and equipped for a total of approximately $5 million. Operations were suspended on 30 June 2002 after Trans Hex unilaterally terminated its involvement in the joint venture claiming its withdrawal was due to mining results coming in under the projections based on DFI’s exploration and sampling data. DFI subsequently re-commenced mining operations in December 2002 through a short-term contract with South Africa’s Gemfarm Investments, using a vessel equipped with dual 24-inch airlift mining systems. In January 2003, a second contract mining vessel was deployed by Gemfarm, equipped with a single 24-inch airlift system, and DFI predicted a significant increase in recoveries from the combined production of the two vessels.
Trans Hex is also evaluating the 30 million cubic meter gravel resource of the Northbank project located in block 9, adjacent to the Orange River in Namibia. Trans Hex also has three shallow marine licenses in the Cape Fria area, four in the Toscannini (both north of Walvis Bay) and two south of Hollandsbird Island (north of Ludertiz).
Australian junior Mt Burgess Mining is evaluationg its Tsumke project in northern Namibia on the Botswana border and has foumnd two kimberlites to date. Reefton Mining another Australian company has found good grades and diamonds in exploration trenches along the Skeleton coast.
Canadian Afri-Can Marine Minerals Corporation have established themselves as one of the largest marine diamond concession holders in Namibia with a total of 28 EPL’s that cover a total of 26 500 km2. Afri-Can are concentrating efforts on their shallow water licenses (Blocks J and K) located adjacent to Namco and Transhex/DFI licence areas, just north of Luderitz. Block J has been identified as being the most prospective following the completion of a geophysical survey. Here several prospective diamond entrapment features have been identified. Block J is located approximately 10km to the west of Namco’s Mercury Island Mining Permit..
Australian Rusina Mining (also active in Namibia through its interests in the Haib Copper Project) have acquired an EPL located along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, stretching from Cape Fria in the south right up to the Angolan border at the Kunene River. Previous exploration along this part of the coast was last carried out in the 1940’s, where nearly 1000 carats were recovered.
Exploration for primary kimberlites is restricted to north eastern Namibia, near the Angolan and Botswana borders, where several foreign Australian and Canadian juniors are active. Near Tsumkwe, Australian junior, Mount Burgess Mining NL, have successfully located two kimberlites following a series of drilling and geophysical programs. The additional discovery of a macrodiamond some distance to the south of the kimberlite discovery suggests that other potentially diamondiferous kimberlites exist in the area. Further north, towards the Angolan border, unlisted Motapa Diamonds are also evaluating the kimberlite potential of this region.
In 2004 Motapa Diamonds announced that it had defined new kimberlite cluster on the Kavango project. Drilling to date has confirmed three kimberlite bodies within the cluster, referred to as the Kaudom South Kimberlite Cluster. The kimberlite bodies are overlain by 30 to 50 meters of Kalahari formation overburden.
NamGem, a subsidiary of Namdeb, has established a cutting and polishing facility at Okahandja in central Namibia.
De Beers Investments
De Beers’ subsidiary Namdeb has 50% interest with the Namibian Government over beach terrace and marine deposits along the Namibian coast.
Diamond Fields International
DFI is evaluating its Sea Diamonds Project located near Luderitz in Namibia.
Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Pty) Ltd
Namibian Minerals Corporation
Trans Hex Group Ltd