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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 3) – Nautilus Minerals has awarded a £33 million [US$65.5 million] contract to offshore technology company SMD Hydrovision to build the world’s first undersea mining equipment.

The UK-based equipment supplier has been commissioned to design two seafloor mining tools (SMT) and also to develop Nautilus’ mining site off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

The custom-made equipment would mine volcanic rock, known as massive sulphide, on the seabed believed to contain ores of metals including copper, zinc and gold.

Mining operations were due to start in late 2010.

"This is something pretty special … it’s the first subsea mining equipment for massive sulphide deposits in the world," Mark Collins, SMD sales manager said.

"It’s all completely new technology."

Mr Collins said this type of work was traditionally done on land, but now mining companies were looking at the bottom of the seabed where there was quite a lot of it around.

"Nautilus Minerals has identified areas around the world where this material is sitting on the seabed."

SMD Hydrovision managed to win the contract from Nautilus against competition from around the world and the tendering process was tough.

Mr Collins said: "It was a technical tendering process, very in-depth. We had to do a feasibility study and had spent the last six months putting stuff together.

"We will be providing the equipment and launch them … it’s all pretty specialised."

There was quite a long process of testing, evaluating, making scale models, and then full trials, Mr Collins added..

With a turnover of around £40 million (K204 million) last year, up from £30 million (K153 million) in 2006, the winning of the £33 million contract from will boost SMD to new heights this year.

SMD, a Tyneside company, with its headquarters on Wincomblee Road in Walker, Newcastle, UK, and a construction yard at Wallsend, has grown rapidly in recent years, but this is by far its biggest ever contract.

The company hired 20 staff in the last year, taking numbers to 120, and expected to hire more as the Nautilus project progresses.

SMD is the premier international supplier of workclass remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and subsea trenching equipment and has a 30-year track record of providing equipment of the highest quality and reliability.

SMD Hydrovision provides subsea and associated surface handling equipment for the oil and gas, telecom, military and scientific subsea equipment markets.

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