SHANGHAI, Feb 9 (Reuters) - A unit of Chinese trainmaker CSR Corp has bought a British firm behind the building of the world's first deep-sea mining robot, signalling China's ambitions to mine valuable metals on the world's seabeds.
Zhuzhou CSR Times Electric Co Ltd, which supplies rail equipment, said it is paying HK$1.27 billion ($163.8 million) to buy Specialist Machine Developments (SMD) to boost its presence in China's nascent industry building deep-sea robots.
Metals offshore can be fifteen times the quality of land deposits but mining is closely regulated by the United Nations' International Seabed Authority (ISA) which issues exploration licences.
China, the world's largest metals consumer, has since 2011 won the rights to search for metals in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Last April, it won a new exploration contract to search the Pacific Ocean for cobalt, nickel and iron.
"The acquisition is in line with the state's key national industrial policies on the encouraged sectors and has significant strategic value and broad prospects for development," Zhuzhou CSR said in a statement to the Hong Kong exchange late on Friday.
SMD's projects include a subsea vehicle it built for Canada's Nautilus Minerals which was aimed at helping the company become the first to commercially mine gold and tin deposits in deep water.
Equipped with cameras and 3D sonar sensors, the robot is driven by pilots from a control room on the vessel above, attached via a giant power cable.
The machine will then cut up the sea floor and suck the rocks through a pipe to deposit it in mounds behind, with the ore then due to be sucked to the surface. ($1 = 7.7527 Hong Kong dollars) (Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Ed Davies)