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Benguela Gem to steer diamond mining growth

2022-03-18  Edgar Brandt

Benguela Gem to steer diamond mining growth

The largest diamond recovery vessel in the world, Debmarine Namibia’s new N$7 billion investment, currently operating under the generic name of Additional Mining Vessel (AMV3), will adopt the registered name of Benguela Gem as it takes up its role as the new flagship of the company’s fleet. 

The eagerly anticipated vessel, which will operate for at least 30 years, will use sub-sea crawling extraction techniques to retrieve diamonds from the seabed off the coast of Namibia. 

The new vessel incorporates the latest marine technologies that drive improved safety performance while optimising efficiency and utilisation rates. The vessel’s build involved many challenges, ranging from the onset of Covid-19 early in the project to the management of many subcontractors, each contributing their specialist skills and products. Engineering challenges included the installation of a DP2 dynamic positioning system based on a seven-thruster propulsion system powered by six generators, to enable greater flexibility in the vessel’s operations. Project management for the vessel was undertaken by De Beers Marine South Africa. 

Debmarine Namibia is a joint venture marine diamond prospecting and recovery company, owned in equal shares by the Namibian government and De Beers Group. Debmarine Namibia began operations in January 2002 and mines off the southern coast of Namibia. The company currently operates one exploration and sampling vessel, the MV SS Nujoma.

The recovery vessels extract diamonds off the ocean floor using highly advanced drill technology, supported by sophisticated tracking, positioning and surveying equipment. Debmarine Namibia is internationally certified, in line with its commitment to safety and environmental management and is a recognised world leader in marine diamond exploration and recovery.

Meanwhile, acquiring the Benguela Gem was the largest-ever commercial transactional deal by Debmarine Namibia. The deal, aimed at boosting their marine diamond recovery operations, involved five commercial banks partnering on a US$375 million (approximately N$5.6-billion) financing deal to procure the new vessel. The US$375 million asset financing facility constituted 80% of the vessel cost, which was financed by Absa Bank, Bank Windhoek, Nedbank, FirstRand Bank and Standard Bank Namibia. Debmarine Namibia covered the remaining 20% (N$1.4 billion) of this investment.

Locally manufactured parts 

In a continuous bid to provide a strong base for domestic economic growth, particularly through the sourcing of local goods and services, Debmarine Namibia sourced parts for the new vessel from around the world and some components were fabricated in Walvis Bay. 

According to Debmarine Namibia CEO Otto Shikongo, the vessel’s mission equipment was built in the Port of Cape Town concurrently with the construction of the vessel. These equipment consisted of the recovery tool and processing plant, of which parts of the steel works were manufactured in Walvis Bay.

3C Metal Belmet Namibia in Walvis Bay was awarded the contract to fabricate a large number of plates and structures to be installed on the new vessel.

Attesting to the local value addition, managing director of 3C Metal Belmet Namibia, Jarcu Groenewald said “the project stretched our capacity as it was a big learning curve for our employees and we are grateful for the opportunity given by Debmarine Namibia.” He added that the project was the biggest awarded to 3C Metal Belmet Namibia to-date, which resulted in an expansion of their facilities and equipment to produce quality products. The company is now confident and equipped to take on more advanced projects. 


Commissioning and testing

The Benguela Gem achieved C4 sign-off on 12 February 2022, which has been described as a phenomenal achievement three months and 11 days ahead of the approved plan, without recording any safety incidents.

In achieving sign-off, the Benguela Gem performed exceptionally well setting a new record in Atlantic 1 for continuous mining on start-up (73 hrs) and rapid commissioning, operating at full nameplate rates and efficiencies from the start of operations.  

Debmarine Namibia conducts marine-based diamond recovery around 120 to 140 metres below sea level with its fleet of six motor vessels (MVs), capable of exploring for and retrieving diamond-bearing materials from the seabed and processing them to a diamond-rich concentrate. 

The company currently owns, manages and maintains five diamond recovery vessels. The recovery vessels are MV Mafuta, MV Grand Banks, MV Debmar Pacific, MV Debmar Atlantic and MV !Gariep all operating in the Atlantic 1 mining licence area. 

2022-03-18  Edgar Brandt

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