SYDNEY, June 12 (Reuters) - Mineral Resources Ltd said it wants to build and operate Australia’s West Pilbara Iron Ore project after confirming it has bought 12.8 percent of Aquila Resources, the target of a hostile takeover led by China’s Baosteel Resources.
Mineral Resources, a mining contractor, said it had purchased a total of 52,640,248 shares in Aquila on market using its own cash to give it a seat at the table on the project.
“MRL (Mineral Resources) ... now intends to fully engage in collaborative discussions to ensure the Project is brought into production as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement to the stock exchange on Thursday.
Mineral Resources said it hoped to win contracts for the construction and delivery of the port and rail infrastructure, as well as the constuction and operation of the mine.
Shares in Mineral Resources fell 3.5 percent in early trading, while Aquila shares were down 2.5 percent.
Baosteel and Australian rail operator Aurizon Holdings Ltd formally launched a bid for Aquila at A$3.40 a share last week, valuing the company at A$1.42 billion ($1.33 billion).
Aquila has told shareholders to sit tight while an independent committee reviews the offer and has not spoken to Baosteel. The company has until June 20 to issue a formal response to the bid.
Mineral Resources said it has already worked up a development plan for the West Pilbara Iron Ore project, which has been stalled over how to fund the estimated $7 billion cost.
Baosteel has expressed frustration with delays on the iron ore project and wants to kickstart the development by taking over Aquila. Aurizon’s goal is to take control of the rail and port tied to the project and open them up to other users.
The project is co-owned by South Korean steel giant POSCO and U.S. based investor AMCI, which have both said they remain committed to it.
The biggest obstacle to the deal, which values Aquila at A$1.42 billion, is support from its founder, Tony Poli, who holds a 29 percent stake. For the takeover to succeed, the suitors need the approval of at least half of Aquila’s share base. (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Richard Pullin)