* Steel makers keen to buy coal assets in Africa, Europe
* India's coal imports rose 21 pct last year
By Krishna N Das
Panaji, India, March 6 A consortium led by Steel Authority of India Ltd, the country's second-biggest steelmaker, hopes to buy coal mines overseas in the next few months when it has completed due diligence on facilities in Indonesia, Mozambique and the United States.
Most steel producers in India, the world's No.3 coal importer, depend on overseas coal shipments and have been trying to buy mines in Africa and Europe.
JSW Steel Ltd, India's third-largest steel maker, has already bought U.S. mines that produce the coal used in steel making. Some other private companies have also acquired mines in Australia.
India's demand for steel making coal is expected to triple by 2020/21, with about 90 percent of that coming from abroad.
"We're doing due diligence in three to four geographies such as Indonesia, Mozambique and the United States," said Ajay Mathur, chief executive of International Coal Ventures Ltd (ICVL), the consortium led by SAIL.
Mozambique is logistically quite well suited for India, Mathur told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in the state of Goa.
"Whatever has come out of Vale and Rio's (operations) from Mozambique looks to be of good quality," he said, referring to the commodity giants' mines in the African nation.
ICVL, whose five participating firms are all state-owned or state-controlled, has been scouting for mines since 2009 but has not been able to buy any yet as it is looking for big mines that can produce at least 50 million tonnes per year.
Mathur declined to say by when or where a deal would be sealed.
When asked whether the group was close to buying coal assets in Poland as earlier reported by media, C S Verma, chairman of SAIL and ICVL, said "yes".
"We should be able to sign a deal in the next few months," Verma told Reuters. "We have already invested a lot in doing due diligence, appointing investment bankers. This shows how serious we are"
A SAIL spokesman, however, later said the company has yet to decide on buying assets in Poland.
Separately, Verma said SAIL would raise coal imports by 6 million tonnes to 18 million tonnes in the next two and a half years as it boosts it steel making capacity to 24 million tonnes from 17.5 million tonnes.
ICVL's Mathur said the group was interested in jointly owning mines overseas with private firms that have already bought assets.
"We are keen on an equity stake in Indian companies' mines overseas," he said, adding though that ICVL had not yet approached any company.
Ahmed Firoz, an economist with India's Ministry of Steel, said public-private partnerships were very important in ensuring sufficient coal was available in India, whose imports according to research firm OreTeam rose 21 percent to 152 million tonnes last year. (Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj and Joseph Radford)