UPDATE 1-Vitol in talks to buy $137 mln stake in Gabon oil
GENEVA, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Vitol S.A. is in exclusive talks to buy a $137 million stake in an offshore licence in Gabon, the seller Harvest Natural Resources Inc said on Monday, deepening the Swiss-based oil trader's presence in West Africa, .
Vitol signed a long-term contract to export oil from Gabon in February, complementing its existing position as a marketer of oil and offshore bloc stakeholder in Nigeria and Ghana. It also has interests in offshore fields in Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
Under the deal, Vitol will buy Harvest Natural's 66.67 percent stake in Gabon's Dussafu production sharing contract, where it is poised to drill its first offshore exploration well in 380 feet of water, according to information on Harvest Natural's website.
Harvest Natural is the operator of the project, which is minority owned by Norway's Panoro Energy.
A Vitol spokeswoman declined to comment.
The talks are the latest sign that Swiss trading houses are morphing from mere middlemen to producers as they look to swoop on cheap assets during a period of depressed M&A activity.
Harvest Natural warned in March about its ability to continue as a going concern because of its liquidity position, but last week it said it was in talks to sell itself to Argentina's Pluspetrol.
"The execution of this agreement with Vitol combined with the previously announced transaction with Pluspetrol makes clear the path the Company has chosen to unlock the value of its portfolio for the benefit of its shareholders," Harvest Natural's chief executive James A. Edmiston said in a statement.
The deal is provisionally scheduled for Oct. 1 and is subject to approval from the government of Gabon and the boards of Vitol and Harvest Natural, among other things, Harvest Natural's statement said.
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