T HE Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (Mime) held a two-day seminar on Sept 15-16 with Australian company BHP Petroleum to discuss the exploration of contested waters with Thailand.
The main thrust of the meeting was for BHP to provide legal advice to the government to assist it in future talks with Bangkok.
As well as senior BHP staff, the seminar, held at the ministry was attended by Australian Ambassador Tony Kevin and Second Secretary Simon Walker. The Cambodian delegation was led by Industry Minister Pou Southirak and Under Secretary of State Nhep Bunchin, whose portfolio covers oil and gas exploration.
BHP is providing its services at the seminar free, it is thought in the hope of making an early favourable impression with the Royal Government when exploration concessions are handed out.
But a source at the seminar, which was closed to the press, said: "BHP getting down to actual drilling is a long way down the track."
As well as discussing maritime law in regard to oil exploration the meeting examined existing agreements for joint ventures between Thailand and Malaysia; Australia and Indonesia; and South Korea and Japan, according to an Industry Ministry statement.
Both Cambodia and Thailand have made positive noises about resolving differences over contested waters in the Gulf of Siam to conduct joint oil and gas exploration but no substantive talks have yet been held.
The seminar marks the first official involvement in Cambodia by BHP Petroleum, a subsidiary of the giant Australian conglomerate which is increasingly looking to expand in Asia. Three senior staff attended and flew in from the Vietnam office, where the company is conducting a sizable offshore operation.
It is not known whether BHP will prepare a bid for three offshore blocks in Cambodian waters which have not undergone exploration yet.
Three exploration consortia are currently exploring four concession blocks in Cambodian waters around 150 km southwest of the port of Sihanoukville. Waters contested with Thailand extend from the western fringes of the blocks.
Both the Japanese consortium Campex and the British company Enterprise Oil have reported making non-commercial oil strikes in their concession areas.