As President and Chief Operating Officer of the Diavik Diamond Mine, Patrick Boitumelo is responsible for delivering value to stakeholders by leading the Diavik team in the safe production of diamonds from the mine. Key priorities include successfully bringing the A21 pipe into commercial production, building strong, consultative and respectful relationships with communities, and ensuring there is a strong focus on the people who make Diavik the special organisation that it is today.
Patrick has more than 20 years’ experience in the mining industry with extensive operational, stakeholder management and corporate strategy experience at a senior level across several businesses including diamonds, soda ash, salt, nickel, iron ore, copper and copper by-products. Patrick has previously worked at Debswana, the world’s leading producer of diamonds by value.
The Diavik Diamond Mine is a joint venture between Rio Tinto (60%) and Dominion Diamond Mines (40%), with Rio Tinto being the operator of the Diavik diamond mine. The Diavik mine is Canada’s largest diamond mine producing between 6 and 7 million carats of diamonds each year. Since mining began in 2003 Diavik has produced over 100 million carats of diamonds.
Diavik diamonds are high end and predominantly white gems with a provenance that is clean and pure thus making them strong in demand. Diavik diamonds are ideal for the bridal markets of all established and emerging markets, including China. In China Rio Tinto has a strategic partnership with Chow Tai Fook who sell Diavik diamonds into their bridal markets in Hong Kong and mainland China. Diavik diamonds also find their way into heirloom pieces of jewellery, for sale in the most exclusive luxury diamond salons in the world.
With Diavik being one of the worlds most remote mines, Patrick explains what it takes for the team to excel at what they do best. “The challenges of operating a diamond mine in a sub-Arctic environment are many and varied, dominated by the extreme weather conditions and lack of year-round road access to the site.
Today at Diavik we are mining three pipes underground at the same time using two different mining methods. It’s a very complex, technical and demanding operation that requires, for example, permanent pumping of water out of the mine, because the orebody was below the lake. Initially, two rockfill dikes were built to safely hold back the waters of Lac de Gras to allow open-pit mining of these three pipes. Though the open pits are directly above the underground mine, water still enters the mine through natural cracks and fissures which extend out to the lakebed. Diavik pumps around 30,000 cubic metres of water to surface per day”.
Diavik is also one of the only mines in the world that you must heat the operation. They keep the temperature in the mine underground between 4 to 5 degrees Celsius, so it doesn’t freeze and to achieve this, they rely on massive heating and ventilation systems inside the underground tunnels.
Their fourth pipe and recent substantial investment, the A21 pipe, is very close to the other three pipes and is the smallest of the four pipes. The A21 pipe is being mined as an open pit operation and commercial production commenced earlier this year.
With the operations being one of the worlds most unique workplaces, Patrick went on to explain more about how the staff and how they house such a workforce in the northern wilderness of Canada. “It takes a village to run a mine like Diavik and the 1100 strong workforce is very diverse in terms of genders, nationalities and skills. There are underground miners, engineers, heavy equipment operators, environmental technicians, information technology staff, health and safety advisors, and process plant operators as well as people working in human resources, finance, administrative, and communities and communications and many other areas”.
“An important aspect is our commitment to hiring northern Indigenous residents. We’ve put in place significant training and apprenticeship programmes to give access to employment at the mine to Indigenous people. This is really a part of the success of the mine – this connection that we’ve been able to create”.
Other skilled production workers are flown to the Diavik site for two weeks on/two weeks off rotations, living in what is essentially a self-contained city. Some employees work a four days on/ three days off rotation and accommodation at the mine includes private bedrooms, a fully equipped fitness facility, a running track, a squash court, weights room and an indoor sauna, critical facilities when winter lasts for eight months of the year.
There is a camaraderie that comes from living and working in this remote location – the challenge, the excitement and the knowledge that they are engaged in something very special.
There is also a culture of safety and respect for each other and for the environment. Around a quarter of our workforce is Indigenous and almost half live in the Northwest Territories. The team is largely Canadian with some workers commuting from as far away as Newfoundland and British Columbia. Several have moved from their home countries to the Northwest Territories to work at Diavik including people from Australia, Austria, the United Kingdom, India, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.
When speaking with Patrick it’s clear that Diavik and Rio Tinto are committed to the development of local indigenous workers and opening opportunities for careers within the local mining sector, however there will always be areas that need experience. “A test for mining companies in the North will always be accessing a skilled labour base from such a small and widely distributed population base”.
“To overcome this challenge, we have carefully built relationships with governments, and local Indigenous communities to focus on training and employment – even creating a Northwest Territories Mine Training Society. Developing a Northern workforce takes time but today, almost a quarter of Diavik’s workforce is Aboriginal and 50 per cent of our team is Northern. This is a great success story and the development and operation of our fourth pipe, A21, presents another opportunity for Northerners to gain employment”.
In terms of customers and Rio Tinto’s channel to market for Diavik diamonds, it is important to note that they are an upstream supplier of rough diamonds and sell their diamonds as rough in regular sales to a stable customer base of diamond traders and manufacturers. These customers then add value to the product through their own cutting and polishing and jewellery manufacturing.
Rio Tinto have a global reputation of not being afraid to invest where needed when it comes to their operations and this goes without saying for Diavik. With the mine only having another 7 years life span left, they invested $350m USD into the A21 pipeline project which will ensure production will remain consistent. Production is scheduled to decrease as operations move deeper underground in the three pipes and production from the A21 pipe will offset this. The A21 pipe will therefore be an important source of incremental supply over the next four years.
Rio Tinto also have a commendable approach on the environment and maintaining that strict international mining environmental regulations are met. They have invested a further $31m USD into what is a first for them, and that’s a renewable wind energy facility. With the temperatures reaching subzero, the wind facility is using state of the art technology and expertly manufactured lubricants to stop the turbines from freezing, it truly is an incredible approach on being self-sufficient.
Patrick explains that strong and respectful partnerships are at the heart of everything they do at Diavik. “The way we operate reflects an empathetic relationship with the land, its people and their legacy”.
“We currently have Participation Agreements with five indigenous groups that oversee our community activities during the operation of the mine. Additionally, we have a Socio-Economic Monitoring Agreement with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the five Indigenous organisations. This Agreement outlines Diavik’s commitments to local employment, economic benefits, cultural and community well-being, and the monitoring of these requirements by a Board of community, government and Diavik representatives”.
With Diavik being renowned in diamond production, it’s safe to say that their legacy after 2025 will continue to be spoken of for generations to come. The passion of the entire business in giving back to the local population is incredible and its morals are something businesses all over the world can certainly learn from.