By George Thande
VICTORIA (Reuters) - Japan's state oil firm has signed an agreement with Seychelles to survey offshore from the Indian Ocean country, as interest in exploring for oil in the region increases.
In June, Seychelles invited oil and gas companies to bid for exploration blocks, ending a two-year moratorium and introducing new rules for bidders after completing a review of laws regulating the sector.
Eddie Belle, chief executive officer of regulator PetroSeychelles, said it and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) had signed an agreement to jointly acquire, process and interpret geophysical, geochemical and geological data.
The survey will be conducted over an offshore area measuring 8,426 sq km for which JOGMEC had been given an exploration licence, Belle said.
"The entire exercise will take approximately two years after which a Japanese oil company may elect to enter into a Petroleum Agreement with the Government of Seychelles to carry out further exploration and development activities," Belle said in an email response to Reuters.
PetroSeychelles said late last week that JOGMEC will cover all the survey costs.
Seychelles does not have a fixed number of exploration areas, but companies can bid for areas of up to 10,000 square km each out of its 1.3 million square km Exclusive Economic Zone.
East Africa has become a focus for exploration after oil discoveries in Uganda and Kenya as well as natural gas finds in Tanzania and Mozambique. Seychelles is attracting interest but had put off licensing more blocks until it reviewed its laws.
Until JOGMEC's entry, Afren Plc and Australia's WHL Energy were the only companies holding exploration licences in Seychelles, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar.