The world's secondlargest producer of iron ore - Rio Tinto - says it will be courting Chinesesteel and construction companies to partner it in developing the US$6 billionSimandou iron ore mine in the West African state of Guinea.

Rio Tinto, itself being the subject of a hostile takeover by rival, BHPBilliton, would make a final decision whether to go ahead with the mine in2009.

But head of Rio's iron ore division Sam Walsh told the FinancialTimes that he was optimistic of bringing Chinese investors into the projectlater this year and that the company's preference would be to have a steelcompany that is allied to a construction company. He said the Chinesesteelmaker would agree to buy a portion of Simandou's output on a long-termoff-take contract while a Chinese construction group would be valuable inmaking sure the mine is built on schedule and on budget, at a time of risingcosts.

The Simandou deposit is touted to be one of Africa'slargest iron ore deposits estimated at between eight and 11 billion tonnes andmade up of high grade haematite, which has a 65 percent iron content.

However to tap these huge deposit, Rio Tinto will have to part with a fortune.The deposits are located in the south east of the country very close to theborder with Liberia and 750km away from the sea.  In addition poor infrastructure in thecountry might prove a spanner in Rio's works to develop the mine into one of the world'sgreat iron mines.

For now though, the miner seems set to roll on the project having spent US$300million on it. The company announced recently that its pre-feasibility studyinto the development of a 70 million tonne per annum mine at Simandou is welladvanced. Rio says the development of the mine would make it one ofthe largest iron ore mines in the world and that there are future plans to makeit even larger, to 170 million tonnes per annum.