Malaysia, Brunei Near Deal on Overlapping Sea Claims

SINGAPORE, (Dow Jones Newswires), Aug 14, 2007

Malaysia and Brunei are close to an agreement on resolving a maritime boundary dispute that has hampered oil and natural gas exploration in an area west of Borneo Island since 2003, Malaysia's prime minister was quoted as saying Tuesday.

"Both of us agreed the officials will be discussing a few more points which need to be decided," Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency following bilateral talks with Bruneian monarch Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

"I believe it will not take a lot of time."

He didn't elaborate on details, according to the report.

At stake is a so-called deepwater area, near where several oil and gas fields have been discovered by both sides in recent years.

Malaysia's state-owned Petronas in 2003 awarded two upstream acreages in the area, which it calls blocks L and M, to U.S. independent Murphy Oil Corp. (MUR), a year after Brunei had awarded nearly identical areas under its own licensing around.

The tiny sultanate signed off block L as block J to a consortium headed by French oil giant Total S.A. (TOT), while a group led by oil major Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN) secured block M as block K.

The ambiguity resulted in a confrontation that year, when a Malaysian navy patrol vessel chased a Total exploration team out of the disputed area - ending exploration activities at both blocks.

Since then, the companies involved have withheld public comment on the issue, saying negotiations were being held at the government level.

Tuesday's report said Malaysia and Brunei may agree to redraw their maritime boundaries so that the competing claims could be resolved.

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