The success of public-private joint venture Debmarine Namibia illustrates the possibilities of marine extraction activities attaining environmental sustainability, local empowerment of communities and economic progression.
The marine diamond recovery partnership between the government of Namibia and De Beers Group contributes about 70% to the country’s total diamond production, while being highly environmentally sustainable.
“Amid Debmarine Namibia having produced around 1.4-million diamond carats in 2018 alone, our unique recovery technology has further ensured that the seabed is largely restored to its natural state after our operations move on,” says Debmarine Namibia CEO Otto Shikongo.
The marine diamond exploration and mining technology group operates six purpose-fitted vessels designed to recover diamonds across a 3 500 km2 area off the Namibian coast in the Atlantic Ocean’s Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem.
Debmarine’s diamond recovery impacts a very small area of about 1.2% of the ecosystem and is deemed to be of low significance at a regional scale, he adds.
Some 99% of the sediment where the company operates to depths of between 120 m and 140 m is discharged and settles back to the seabed floor.
The ability to undertake mineral recovery in an environmentally sustainable way is one of the key messages the group aims to impart.
“We have further made use of a seabed monitoring programme, which is guided by a committee that includes independent scientists from academia and industry,” said Shikongo.
In addition, Debmarine leverages its mineral recovery activities to empower communities.
“When Debmarine Namibia started operations in 2002, it was largely a foreign-owned company whose workforce only consisted of 14% Namibians,” he explained, pointing out that the company’s staff complement now comprises 86% Namibians, with nearly 50% of shore-based staff women.
“Our employees are based all over Namibia, with representation in almost all 14 regions, and we invest N$100-million a year to train our staff. In fact, 10% of our employees are currently trainees.”
The group reported investment of about N$9-million a year in various courses ranging from education, health, security and sport through the company’s social investment fund and small- and medium-sized business development through the Debmarine-Namdeb Foundation.
Lastly, Shikongo highlighted the economic relevance of mineral recovery, despite the economic growth challenges that Namibia has experienced in recent years.
“Marine diamond recovery continues to be an area of hope for our country’s current and future financial prospects,” he noted.
Debmarine contributed N$16.4-billion to the Namibian economy over the period from 2014 to 2018 in the form of dividends, royalties and income tax.
“This growth has been driven by factors that include increased production and improved consumer demand. We further continue to invest in and develop our fleet of six vessels, thereby creating tremendous local capacity for technology research and development.”
Debmarine is also currently undertaking the first phase of designing the world’s next largest diamond marine recovery vessel, expected to be completed by 2022.
“These are notable feats . . . We believe the lessons we have learnt are relevant to the Southern African region and the world. These developments can help further advance our nations and their economies,” he concluded.