De Beers Tests New Subsea Diamond Exploration Vessel

The Nujoma's floatout at Kleven Verft earlier this year (De Beers)

By MarEx 2016-11-25 19:47:41

De Beers has announced the first sea trials of its latest marine diamond mining vessel, the Nujoma, which is designed for exploration and sampling. 

The Nujoma was built by Kleven Verft in Ulsteinvik and fitted out with a 2,200 ton sampling equipment package upon her arrival in South Africa. She will operate in Namibian waters beginning next month, prospecting for the next profitable areas of diamond mining.

Nujoma is the product of a joint venture between De Beers and the Namibian government, called Debmarine Namibia. She is 75 percent financed by Namibian banks, and De Beers anticipates that her operations will create 140 jobs for local residents.

“The Nujoma makes Debmarine Namibia operations independent as it is the first sampling vessel owned by the company," said Debmarine Namibia CEO Otto Shikongo. Until this point, "Debmarine Namibia has been chartering sampling services from De Beers Marine South Africa and a Namibian service provider.”

Debmarine is one of only a handful of companies with a successful marine mining operation. Its five diamond mining ships use underwater crawlers fitted with suction hoses to pull up tens of thousands of carats per year from the seafloor. De Beers says that the largest of the five, the Mafuta, can produce tens of thousands of carats per month. 

Subsea mining for metals may be the next frontier

Other types of subsea mining have become a source of controversy, and unlike De Beers’ subsea diamond mining, they have not always proved economical: the harsh offshore environment and the difficulty of working at depth impose additional costs on an ore mining operation. 

Australian-Canadian venture Nautilus Minerals is preparing to mine copper and gold deposits off Papua New Guinea, targeting hydrothermal vents one mile below the surface. The firm is taking delivery of its subsea equipment and tooling, and its surface vessel is under construction at Fujian Mawei Shipyard. Nautilus predicts that operations will begin in 2018-2019, subject to the firm's ability to secure additional funding.

NGOs are concerned that waste plumes from Nautilus' project will damage the environment. Regulators in New Zealand have halted similar proposals on the grounds that subsea mining for metals could harm life on the seafloor.