African Petroleum says holds Senegal oil block claimed by Total

DAKAR (Reuters) - African Petroleum, an oil firm founded by Romanian-Australian businessman Frank Timis, said in a statement it still owns a license to explore an oil block off the coast of Senegal that French oil major Total said it bought this week.

The claim could set up a battle over potentially lucrative exploration licenses just as the poor West African country is preparing to begin oil production after a series of promising discoveries.

“The company reiterates its position that it holds a 90 percent operated position in the ROP (Rufisque Offshore Profoud) production sharing agreement,” African Petroleum said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Under the terms of the ROP Production Sharing Agreement, the block remains active unless and until a termination procedure is enacted by the Republic of Senegal,” it added.

A Total spokesman declined to comment.

Senegal’s government had previously said it canceled the contract because African Petroleum did not carry out work commitments, without giving details.

State oil firm Petrosen, which under both the Total and the African Petroleum deals holds the remaining 10 percent of the block, said on Thursday the contract had been canceled in April 2016.

“The company was supposed to do work in compliance with its obligations and that was not done so we canceled the contract,” Petrosen Managing Director Mamadou Faye said.

A spokesman for African Petroleum was not immediately available for further comment on Thursday.

Another firm owned by Timis called Timis Corp and Petrosen agreed a $400 million deal to cede a portion of the rights in two other Senegal blocks to Kosmos in 2014.

Reporting by Diadie Ba, Emma Farge and Edward McAllister; Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Paris, editing by David Evans