October 8, 2007 / 2:13 PM / 12 years ago

Wind ends De Beers airship Botswana diamond search

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 8 (Reuters) - The world’s biggest diamond producer, De Beers DBRS.BT, said on Monday it had stopped exploration activities using a zeppelin that was damaged by strong winds, and would use alternative methods.

Heavy gusts of wind last month detached the airship, worth 7 million euros ($9.87 million), from its moorings near the huge Jwaneng mine, slightly injuring a South African crew member.

De Beers spokesman Tom Tweedy said the zeppelin was too badly damaged to resume work. Operations were suspended after the damage occurred.

“We cannot operate that airship. It was very damaged, but we have a whole arsenal of other technology,” Tweedy said.

He said the airship was a rare craft and only two others were operational in Japan and Germany for tourism purposes.

“You can’t get this off the shelf,” he said, adding that it took about 18 months to build a zeppelin.

He said the zeppelin was just a carrier of the exploration technology, and the high-tech sensors to probe beneath the sands of Botswana’s Kalahari desert for diamond deposits would be adopted for use in other aircraft.

De Beers, 45 percent owned by Anglo American (AAL.L) (AAL.L), said last month it was keen to use the zeppelin for exploration work in neighbouring South Africa.

This plan could now not go ahead, Tweedy said.

But he said the zeppelin had gathered a good amount of data in the nearly two years it had been in use.

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