GVK Hancock Coal has awarded the mine operations contract for its $10bn Alpha thermal coal project in the Galilee Basin, Australia, to construction and mining firm Thiess.

Under the Early Services Agreement signed this week, GVK Hancock will work with Thiess to develop a ten-year mine plan and budget, with the operational strategy, mine planning and management plans expected to be finalized by the end of 2013.

Thiess Australian Mining executive general manager Michael Wright said the coming six-month period is a crucial time for both companies to work together and strengthen Australia’s position as the leader in safe and highly productive operations.

"This means resetting the paradigm on everything from plant and equipment, local sourcing to robust employee relations. It’s about setting the tone for what will be Australia’s largest coal mine," Wright said.

Thiess had previously carried out the operations for the Alpha bulk sample pit initiated by Australian mineral exploration firm Hancock Prospecting in 2010.

The first coal at the Alpha Coal Mine will be extracted by 2016. Once fully commissioned, the mine will produce 32 million tons of thermal coal annually for the Asian export market.