The diamond industry is the key component of the Namibian Mining Industry. Namibia is the source of the richest alluvial diamond deposits in the world. Namibia has become one of the world’s leading gem-quality diamond producers contributing some 30% of world output. Exports have risen every year since independence, save for a slight drop in 1994. They make up 35 per cent of total exports, against 30 per cent in 1990. About 98% of the diamonds mined in Namibia are of gem quality and since mining started near Luderitz in 1908, more than 100 million carats have been mined. In 1996, diamond production was 1486 million carats, mostly gem quality.
Diamond mining is centred around Oranjemund on the border with Namibia’s southern neighbour, South Africa. Most production sites are offshore. Onshore deposits are finally becoming exhausted. Offshore diamond mining in Namibia has soared during the 1990s growing from 29,000 carats in 1990 to 650 000 carats in1997. The potential for gem diamonds off Namibia’s shores has been estimated at 1.5 billion to three billion carats, of which 95% are expected to be gem quality. With the country having the highest value diamonds in the world at US$320 a carat, the number of vessels mining diamonds off its coast is increasing.
The biggest producer is the Namdeb Diamond Corporation, an equal partnership between De Beers’ and the Namibian government. There are considerable reserves offshore, and marine mining accounts for about a third of current production. In mid 1998, Almazy Rossii-Sakha, the Russian diamond company, and the Namibian government signed a co-operation deal covering marketing, exploration and production, cutting and polishing.
Namibian listed companies Ocean Diamond Mining Holdings and Namibian Minerals Corporation have joined Namdeb and Canadian company Diamond Fields International to form the Namibian Marine Diamond Mining Association in an effort to negotiate more efficiently with the government.
Namibia imposes a 10 per cent royalty on the export of rough diamonds but not on the export of polished stones.
The leading diamond mining company with an output of around 1.3 million carats is Namdeb Diamond Corporation, created in 1994 by De Beers from its subsidiary Consolidated Diamond Mines. The Namibian government has a 50% shareholding. In 1996 total production at Namdeb increased by 1.2% over the previous year.
Namdeb still produces more of its diamonds onshore, near the mouth of the Orange River, with offshore production contributing about 480,000 (35%) of its total 1.36 million carats produced in 1997. Last year Namdeb commissioned a bucket wheel dredge and floating treatment plant at a cost of US$40 million aimed at prolonging the life of onshore operations. However, Namdeb’s future lies offshore with De Beers Marine having planned to increase its full time production fleet this year to five ships to boost production. A new vessel, Voyager, which will operate in the deep waters off Namibia’s coast, is to be launched in 1999. It will make use of a 120 ton remote controlled seabed crawler.
Namdeb operates a sorting and valuation centre in Windhoek. Namdeb is the largest private sector employer in Namibia.
De Beers Marine also uses its advanced technology to mine deep sea off shore areas off the southern coast on behalf of Namdeb. In 1995 Debmarine recovered 457,397 carats, 34% of Namdeb’s total output. In 1996 De Beers Marine increased carat production by 3% over 1995 and contributed 35% of Namdeb’s production of top quality diamonds. The company is exploring further offshore concessions.
De Beers Marine commissioned the Debmar Pacific vessel in 1998 as a drill ship. Also in 1998, De Beers Marine converted the Coral Sea from a production vessel to a dual purpose evaluation sampling and production vessel. The Zealous vessel carried out geo-survey work during 1997 and also deployed a two person submersible in Namibian waters.
The first diamond cutting and polishing factory in Namibia began production at Okahandja at a site which has been declared an export processing zone. About 100 people will be employed by subsidiary, NamGem, as part of phase one and expansion will be considered if the venture is successful. An initial $2.7m will be spent setting up the factory. Namgem is a wholly owned subsidiary of diamond producer Namdeb. The major EPZ concessions will take the form of government training grants and the waiving of income tax, general sales tax and export duties on the company.
The Namibian Minerals Corporation (NAMCO), established in 1991 and listed on the Vancouver, Toronto and Namibian Stock Exchanges, is the second largest holder of Marine Diamond Concessions in Namibia. Namco holds exclusive prospecting rights over five marine concessions totalling 5600 km2 off the west coasts of Namibia, at Luderitz and Hottentots Bay, and South Africa. It has an output of around 750,000 carats per year which is likely to increase significantly as the company exploits its three marine and one Orange River diamond concessions. Most of Namco’s diamonds discovered are marine diamonds and more than 95% are gem quality.
Funds raised in its listing on the Toronto stock exchange will enable Namco to expand its diamond sampling programmes off the Namibian coast and fund the design, development and construction of the next mining phase including further assessment of its Luderitz Bay discovery where samples have established a significant resource where full-scale mining started in 1997.
Namco’s 120-tons seabed crawling machine, called NamSSol, has gone into production and will be able to recover one million cubic metres of seabed material, mining 0.3-0.4 square kilometres, each year. The associated ship SS Kovambo, was fitted with a 50-tons per hour processing plant with an annual full production target of 150,000 carats. Namco has recovered its first diamonds from the Koichab Prospect in the Luderitz Bay Concession using the NamSSol mining system with at least 95 percent of diamonds recovered of gem quality.
Namco is planning to invest R100 million in a second mining system similar to the NamSSol seabed crawler which is well on its way to achieving its target recovery rate of 150,000 carats a year. The new machine would then double production to 300,000 carats a year. The NamSSol Two, weighing 120 tons will be built in Cape Town and it is predicted that it will have a production rate at least 20% better than NamSSol One. NamSSol Two will be completed by the third quarter of 1999 and will come into operation during the first quarter of 2000.
Namco has also entered into an accord with the Namibian-based Arsan Mining, 50% owned by Russia’s Almazy Rossil-Sakha, the world’s second-largest diamond producer to investigate the feasibility of establishing a diamond cutting factory in Namibia. They are also discussing joint onshore diamond exploration.
Namco has a three year marketing agreement with IDC Holdings, a private diamond industry company based in London and Antwerp.
Ocean Diamond Mining
Ocean Diamond Mining Holdings (ODM) is a relatively small diamond company with a market capitalisation of some $ 40 million, which has struggled for years to carve out a strong position. In 1996 its newly commissioned ocean-going mining vessel, converted in Cape Town from an oil rig supply ship, was put to work with a revised method for extrapolating geological indications. The result was a huge increase in turn-over and profitability.
ODM has just purchased another ship to boost its offshore diamond mining operations and now operates three mining vessels in the mining licence of 374 km2 granted by the Namibian government within the three nautical mile limit of Plumpudding, Sinclair, Pomona, Albatross, Possession, Long, Halifax, Seal, Penguin, Ichaboe, Mercury and Hollamsbird islands off the Namibian coast near Luderitz. In 1996 the government awarded a new prospecting licence to ODM covering an area of 5700 square kilometres seaward of the islands. Island Diamond, a subsidiary of Ocean Diamond Mining, has been granted another exclusive sea diamond prospecting licence over 5,700 square kms marine prospecting rights off the Namibian coast. The latest award increases the area fifteenfold. The purchase of the new ship forms part of the plan for the company to increase its output from its current level of about 57,000 carats a year to 100,000 carats a year by 2001.
In the 1998 financial year, 83% of ODM’s production was accounted for by the vessel, Namibian Gem. For the six months since then ODM has produced over 30,000 carats of diamonds, with mining taking place mainly around Halifax Island in the company’s Namibian Island concessions. During the financial year ended March 1997, ODM produced 57 021 carats which amounts to 8% of Namibia’s total diamond production. During the past year royalties payments to the Namibian government amounted to some N$4.8 million. During the first quarter of its new financial year ODM’s total production stood at 15,704 carats which is 20% above production target. The company is confident it will reach its target of 52,000 carats for its financial year ended March 1998. The company also intends to expand production by the acquisition of further vessels and the introduction of more efficient dredging methods.
ODM’s subsidiary, Island Diamonds, has been awarded another six exclusive diamond prospecting licences totalling 5500 square kilometres. The new prospecting licences were awarded for two areas. The northern group comprises five adjacent prospecting licences covering a rectangular coastal strip 4920 square kilometres in size. These are located from Terrace Bay northwards to Cape Frio over a distance of 150 km along the north coast of Namibia. The southern prospecting licence area is a single licence area measuring 580 square kilometres. This area is located south of Walvis Bay between Sandwich Harbour and Conception Bay.
Moonstone Diamond Corporation (80%) and state-owned Development Brigade Corporation (20%) obtained a 1000 sq. km. offshore Block G on Conception Bay off the coast of the Namib desert some 165 km north of Luderitz and 60 km. south of Hollandsbird island.
Benguela Concessions Limited, through the Benguela Namibian Venture (BNV) with Namibian partner, Auas Diamond Company (Proprietary) Limited (Auas), acquired a major interest in Block F of the Mercury Island / Conception Bay offshore diamond blocks of Namibia which is close to well known mineralised areas Hottentots Bay and Luderitz Bay.
Trans Hex is evaluating the 30 million cubic metre gravel resource of the Northbank project located in block 9, adjacent to the Orange River in Namibia.