De Beers Hoovers Up Its Best Diamonds From the African Seabed

Photographs by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Kevin Crowley and Julius Domoney | Bloomberg | July 11, 2017

For years oil was the big commodity found offshore. These days diamond giant De Beers finds some of its most valuable gems on the Atlantic Ocean seabed off the coast of Namibia.

They are literally vacuuming them off the ocean floor.

The world’s biggest diamond producer has spent $157 million on a state-of-the-art exploration vessel that will scour 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) of ocean floor for gems, an area about 65 percent bigger than Long Island. The Anglo American Plc unit mines in the area in a 50-50 joint venture with the Namibian government.

The vessel will scan and sample the seabed to identify the most profitable areas for the ships, which suck up diamonds before they’re flown by helicopter to shore. The investment will help the company maintain annual production of at least 1.2 million carats for the next 20 years, Chief Executive Officer Bruce Cleaver said in an interview. Those stones are “very important to our global mix and to our customers who are looking for higher-value diamonds,” Cleaver said.

Namibia’s diamonds, which have been washed down the Orange River from South Africa over millions of years and deposited in the ocean, are key to De Beers because of their high quality. While not the biggest, the gems have few flaws after being broken from larger stones on their way to the sea bed. Only the strong and good quality ones survive, Cleaver said.

De Beers’s Namibian unit sold its diamonds for $528 a carat last year, much higher than the $187 average for the whole company’s stones and accounting for about 13 percent of total earnings.

The giant subsea “crawler” tractor is lowered into the ocean from the deck of the Mafuta.

De Beers finds some of its most valuable diamonds on the Atlantic Ocean seabed.

The Mafuta exploration vessel dredges the seabed at depths of around 150 meters off the Namibian coast.

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