The Namaqualand semi-desert of South Africa meets the sea and under those waters are diamonds: meet the men who dive for them
West coast diamond divers are a hard breed of men. These #commercial diving experts do one of the world’s #tough jobs to make a living. The #marine diamond mining vessels they work from are practical rather than luxurious. They are crammed with dive gear and machinery.
The vessel I am on is no Queen Mary. Cabins are dank and cold, every space is crammed with first aid kits, food, tools, pipes and compressors that boggle the mind and in the little galley what looks like black bean soup perks away on the gas stove. The commercial diving men who live aboard for days on end surround me. They sport tattoos and muscle bulk, yet they engage me with almost quaint old-fashioned good manners..
I am lucky to be here. Sea medicals and pre-sea safety inductions came my way through a work connection. Not every journalist in the world can get onto the marine diamond mining vessels in western South Africa. Most people equate Namibia with diamonds and the sea’s connection, but there are about 25 shallow water contractors undertaking diver-based mining in the subtidal concession areas of the South African west coast.
These marine diamond mining operations are breathing life back into decaying towns like Port Nolloth, Lamberts Bay, and Alexander Bay which thrived in the days before the fishing industry took a head-dive through depletion of fish populations and tightened regulations. They also offer a young, strong man with a commercial diving certification the promise of good money and a bright future — if they can handle the life.
Today’s divers are indebted to Texas oilman, Sammy Collins, for the opportunity to work in marine diamond mining. He formed the Marine Diamond Corporation in Namibia in the 1960’s and was undoubtedly the leading influence on extracting diamonds from under the sea once the diamonds on land started to run out. In ten years his company mined around one and a half million carats from under 20 meters of water.
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