Windhoek-The De Beers Group has confirmed that a Scandanavian shipbuilder has commenced what will eventually be the world’s largest diamond mining vessel for Debmarine Namibia, a joint venture held in equal shares between the government of Namibia and De Beers.
De Beers Group Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Cleaver, who disclosed this to New Era in an exclusive interview on Thursday, said the vessel would be used exclusively for operations off Namibia’s coast once it is completed in about three years.
Speaking from his London-based office, Cleaver said the new vessel is in line with Debmarine Namibia’s strategy to expand marine diamond mining operations in Namibia, as land-based operations in the country gradually slow down.
“We have to appreciate what Namdeb (the other 50/50 joint venture between government and De Beers) has accomplished but we have to recognise that Namdeb has entered a very challenging phase in its life cycle,” said Cleaver, adding that there is “tremendous potential” in Namibia’s marine diamond mining.
The hull of the new Debmarine Namibia vessel will cost in the range of N$2 billion while industry experts estimate that the owner-fitted equipment, such as plant and mining tools, is anticipated to be another N$5 billion. The new vessel is expected to commence operations in 2021 and will work alongside the other five Debmarine Namibia mining vessels. The new vessel is expected to enhance the miner’s ability to recover diamonds off Namibia’s Atlantic coastline and 176 metres long will be two metres longer than the MV Mafuta, which is currently the largest vessel in the fleet. The SS Nujoma, which was delivered three months ahead of schedule and under budget, was officially inaugurated in June 2017 and is fully operational.
Cleaver also shared De Beers’ preliminary financial results for 2017 which indicated that total revenue for the Group declined by four percent to US$5.8 billion (2016: US$6.1 billion) – as expected, given the benefit of strong midstream restocking in the first half of 2016. The average realised rough diamond price decreased by 13 percent to US$162/carat (2016: $187/carat) mainly owing to a lower value mix. This was partly offset by an 8 percent increase in consolidated sales volumes to 32.5 million carats (2016: 30.0 million carats).
The Group’s capital expenditure reduced by 48 percent to US$273 million (2016: $526 million), mainly owing to the completion of major projects, including Namibia’s new exploration and sampling vessel, the SS Nujoma; and planned lower waste capitalisation at other mines.
The preliminary financial results further indicate that underlying EBITDA increased by two percent to US$1,435 million (2016: US$1,406 million) despite lower revenue following the one-off industry midstream restocking in 2016. This performance was driven by improved margins, which benefited from lower unit costs, supported by higher production and efficiency drives across the business.
Cleaver continued that early signs are that global consumer demand for diamond jewellery registered positive growth in 2017 in US dollar terms, following a marginal increase in 2016.
“Sustained diamond jewellery demand growth in the US was once again the main contributor to this positive outcome. Demand for diamond jewellery by Chinese consumers grew marginally, in local currency and dollar terms. In contrast, consumer demand for diamonds softened in India and the Gulf states, both in local currency and dollar terms, while Japan’s consumer demand growth was flat in local currency and lower in dollars,” Cleaver explained.
Diamond producers’ primary stocks are estimated to have reduced considerably during the first half of 2017, as sentiment in the midstream improved and rough and polished inventories normalised for businesses in this segment of the value chain. Overall, Cleaver noted additional consumer marketing undertaken during the main selling season had a positive effect on polished demand in the US, China and India in the final quarter of the year, leading to a positive impact on overall polished inventories.
Closer to home, Namdeb Holdings, production increased by 15 percent to 1.8 million carats (2016: 1.6 million carats), primarily owing to higher production from Debmarine’ Mafuta vessel, driven by higher mining rates following an extended scheduled in-port during 2016. At Namdeb’s land operations, production rose by 6 percent, despite challenging conditions, including grade variability owing to the nature of alluvial deposits, structural cost pressures, and some operations nearing the end of their lives.
In South Africa, De Beers Consolidated Mines production increased by 23 percent to 5.2 million carats (2016: 4.2 million carats), primarily owing to Venetia, driven by higher grades as well as improved operational performance benefiting tonnes treated. Construction continues on the Venetia Underground Mine, which is expected to become the mine’s principal source of production during 2023.