Deep Sea DiamondsJuly 16, 20
"There's diamonds in them thar oceans."
The original quote, "There's gold in them thar hills", heralded the 1848 Gold Rush and appears in Mark Twain's 1892 novel The American Claimant.
I've taken the liberty of updating it to reflect the prospect of a new mineral dash. This time for underwater gems.
We've been digging diamonds out of the ground for centuries now, but known reserves won't last forever.
And there's good evidence that many millions of carats are lying under the seabed, just waiting to be sucked up and sold.
Digging for marine diamonds has become a reality in the last couple of decades, thanks to enormous advances in technology.
Land-based supplies in Namibia could run dry in the next 15 years, but the country is at the forefront of marine exploration, identifying areas South Atlantic coastline that are likely to be rich in diamonds.
Debmarine Namibia is the world's largest marine diamond mining company - a 50/50 joint venture between the government and De Beers.
A picture of blue sea on their website is captioned simply: "This is our mine", suggesting near-endless possibilities.
In the next year or two they'll take a delivery of world's first custom-built diamond-recovery ship, that will join an existing fleet of six adapted vessels.
The new "crawler ship" will cost $468m and represent the biggest investment by anyone ever in marine diamonds and could recover half a million carats a year, a 35 per cent increase on Debmarine's current production.
The existing fleet already dredge thousands of tonnes of sediment from 150 meters below the seabed, 12 miles off Namibia's south western coast.
They use either airlift-drill technology, or on more modern ships, a 280 tonne track-mounted remote-controled crawler to bring up the gravel, then they wash, sift and sort it on board, and return the sediment - as well as the odd octopus - back to the bottom of the ocean.
The diamonds are automatically sealed into barcoded steel briefcases, untouched by human hands, and flown by helicopter three times a week to vaults back on dry land, in the capital Windhoek to be graded.
Pic shows one of Debmarine's current diamond ships
So is it possible that one day, maybe in the not too distant future, the tide will turn away from depleted land-based mines to the 70 per cent of our planet that is covered in water?
In Namibia, marine diamonds already account for three quarters of the country's total output.
Debmarine holds a license to explore 2,316 square miles of ocean until 2035. Since it started operations in January 2002 it has recovered over 16m carats, and has so far depleted just two per cent of its allocated area.
Not only that, but an estimated 95 per cent of the diamonds recovered from the sea are of "gem quality".
From January to March, Debmarine delivered 417,000 carats, up 15 per cent year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter.
The long-term prospects for land-based diamonds, however, are not good. Known global reserves are estimated at just 1.1bn carats, with current (pre-COVID-19) demand at around 155m carats a year.
Even if demand remains static that still amounts to little more than seven years' worth of diamonds. And so we will inevitably turn to alternative technology- such as lab-growns - to maintain supply, or go looking in places we haven't previously looked.
Things are very different now from the California Gold Rush 170 years ago. Dredging the seabed for gems is far beyond the scope a man with a spade in his hand and hope in his heart. It takes a multinational with extremely deep pockets to even think about investing in the equipment and infrastructure.
But far beyond the shores of Namibia there are many, many more miles of coastline yet to be explored and who knows which of them will make somebody a fortune.
Have a fabulous weekend.