Seychelles sees oil licensing round next year following delay

VICTORIA Wed Oct 31, 2012 9:13am EDT

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VICTORIA Oct 31 (Reuters) - Seychelles has pushed back the bidding process to license 30 oil and gas exploration blocks and is now likely to invite bids next year, a senior energy official said on Wednesday.

East Africa has become a hotbed of exploration after several oil discoveries in the area, including oil in Uganda and natural gas finds in Tanzania and Mozambique.

The Seychelles National Oil Company in April announced it was launching bids for 30 blocks, but this was delayed, Patrick Joseph, the company's exploration manager, told Reuters.

"We now expect to launch the bids early next year," he said.

Joseph said the country would have liked the process to combine a licensing round and negotiations with potential explorers but would wait for an expected recommendation from the International Monetary Fund on how best to set it up.

So far, Afren Plc and Australia's WHL Energy are the only companies holding exploration licences in Seychelles, although a few others have expressed interest.

The country of around 85,000 people, best known as a luxury holiday destination, expects economic growth this year and next, showing a strong recovery from 2008, when foreign exchange reserves were nearly exhausted. (Additional reporting by Kelly Gilblom in Nairobi; Editing by George Obulutsa and Jane Baird)

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