Ghana, Ivory Coast aim to settle maritime boundary peacefully

Reuters

* Ghana already a rising regional oil producer

* Ivory Coast seeks to assert claim after crisis years

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast, Nov 26 (Reuters) - West Africanneighbours Ghana and Ivory Coast aim to settle a long disputeover their maritime boundary, the Ivorian government said, whichcould defuse sometimes tense relations and smooth the way foroil and gas exploration.

The countries have never officially delimited that boundary,and their maps showing offshore waters currently overlap.

So far only Ghana has awarded acreage in the disputed area.

Oil exploration in Africa's Gulf of Guinea has acceleratedsince Ghana discovered its giant Jubilee oil and gas field in2007 and brought it online in record time in late 2010.

The field is estimated to hold around 2 billion barrels ofoil reserves and another 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Ivory Coast, meanwhile, drilled only a handful of offshoreexploration wells during a decade-long political crisis thatended in 2011.

It now seeks to expand its oil and gas industry and assertsthat some offshore areas claimed by Ghana lie within itsterritorial waters.

"The two heads of state ... have formally decided that theresolution of this dispute should be peaceful. The decisiontaken will be a consensual decision," Ivory Coast governmentspokesman Bruno Kone said on Tuesday.

"Ivory Coast has set up a commission to work on the subject... So in June 2014, our two countries, Ghana and Ivory Coast,will be able to find a definitive solution to this dispute," hesaid, speaking after a cabinet meeting.

With the return of political stability, the economy of IvoryCoast, the world's top cocoa producer, grew 9.8 percent lastyear. But the government aims to diversify, given that cocoaaccounts for 40 percent of exports.

Its potentially lucrative and largely undeveloped offshoreblocks, meanwhile, have generated renewed interest as well.

France's Total announced in April it haddiscovered oil in the western part of CI-100, a block itacquired in 2010 that is adjacent to the disputed area withGhana.

Total, along with partners Anadarko and Canada's CNR, plans to spend up to $300 million to drill explorationwells on three offshore blocks in waters off the western town ofSassandra.

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