Oranjemund, Southern Namibia – Twelve miles off Namibia’s arid southern coastline, 150 metres below rolling ocean waves, diamond miners are hard at work securing a future for the practice of romancing by stone.
With the precious gems expected to run out on land in as little as 15 years, diamond company De Beers is building up a naval fleets to protect its interests. Namdeb, De Beers’ 50:50 operation with the Namibian government, estimates that 95 per cent of its diamonds will in future come from the sea bed off Africa’s southwest coast and the marine gems are already the fetching the highest prices from all of its seven mines.
Five specially-adapted ships fitted with giant tractors and drills between them mine more than one million carats a year from rich alluvial deposits scattered out to sea by the mighty Orange River since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
“Marine diamonds are our future,” said Paulus Shituna, acting CEO of Namdeb’s trading arm. “Ten years ago it was 30 per cent marine and 70 per cent land but now it’s flipped on its head.”
The UK is also in on the act, with private firm UK Seabed Resources securing licenses to explore an area twice the size of Wales off the coast of Hawaii with US defence giant Lockheed Martin, after former prime minister David Cameron said he wanted to be at the forefront of a seabed mining industry, which he claimed could be worth up to £40bn to the UK over the next 30 years.
Andrew Bloodworth, director for minerals and waste at the British Geological Survey, said the potential prizes, and environmental pitfalls, of opening the new frontier were considerable.
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