UPDATE 1-Total expands oil search offshore West Africa with Mauritanian deal

(Adds detail on deal and growing interest in West Africa)

DAKAR, May 12 (Reuters) - Total has signed a deal to explore for oil and gas offshore Mauritania, the French company said on Friday, expanding the scope of its search for new fields in the deep waters off West Africa’s Atlantic coast.

Under an agreement with Mauritania’s state-run oil company SMHPM, Total will take a 90 percent operating stake in Block C7, which covers 7,300 square kilometres, and SMHPM will take the remaining 10 percent.

The deal comes 10 days after Total announced that it had taken a 90 percent stake in the deepwater Rufisque Offshore Profond Block in neighbouring Senegal, as oil majors show an increasing interest in the largely untapped region.

“This agreement is part of Total’s strategy to explore new deepwater basins in Africa,” said Guy Maurice, Senior Vice President of Africa at Total Exploration and Production.

Companies including British-based Cairn Energy and Dallas-based Kosmos Energy have reported a string of successful finds offshore Senegal and Mauritania in recent years, stoking interest in the region and potentially transforming Senegal and Mauritania’s impoverished economies.

Last week BP and joint venture partner Kosmos revealed a major gas discovery off Senegal.

“Alongside Guyana, Mauritania and Senegal is the number one exploration hot spot,” said David Thomson, sub-Saharan analyst for consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Total has operated in Mauritania for nearly 20 years, it said, and already holds interests in other licences on and off shore. (Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Greg Mahlich)