Opal production has been stable for 2010 with a few new mining areas found along the river gorge cliffs below Delanta in Welo Province. But during the week of January 25th 2011 approximately 80 illegal opal miners were arrested and jailed.
The sentence for illegal mining is 6 months to 5 years imprisonment and confiscation of all opals. So this is a very serious offense. Ethiopian opal miners must be licensed and registered members of a mining cooperative to be considered valid legal miners. This large arrest is devastating the current opal supply coming into Addis Ababa, and it seems, the only opal presently coming out of Welo province is low grade potch & color. I am sure this will have an effect on prices…just how big of an effect may not be known for a few months until current opal stocks in Addis Ababa dwindle down.
Our good friends and opal suppliers in Addis Ababa donated a small lapidary cabochon machine to a miners cooperative to help them learn to cut some of the opals they mine…a gesture of good will and support. We visited them for 4 days during the 2011 Tucson Gem Show…a nice break from the cold Montana winter. And then they visited us in Billings MT, during their stay in the USA, for a quick 3 day opal cutting class. They have plans to start a very small opal cutting facility in Addis Ababa. We had a wonderful visit with our Ethiopian guests and it was intresting and enlightening to hear African news from an African perspective.