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Posted February 25, 2004 by publisher in Cuba-World Trade

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MADRID, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Spanish oil major Repsol YPF

said on Tuesday it would start exploring for oil off Cuba by April at the latest, drilling several wells.

The Communist-run island has granted Repsol the right to explore five blocks in the Gulf of Mexico off the west of Cuba, Repsol Chairman Alfonso Cortina told a news conference to discuss the company’s 2003 results.

“We have done the seismic studies ... and we are going to start the first survey at the end of March or at the start of April,” Cortina said.

“These are high-risk areas ... but we are optimistic.”

Cuba in December estimated its 2003 oil production at 26.04 million barrels (71,300 barrels per day), a 2.5 percent increase on 2002.

Foreign companies, mainly Canadian firms Sherritt International Corp.

and Pebercan Inc.

, have joint ventures and production agreements with state oil monopoly Cubapetroleo (Cupet) and account for around 60 percent of Cuba’s oil and gas output.

A 112,000 square km (43,250 square mile) area in Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico waters was opened to foreign exploration in 1999. Repsol and Sherritt International have signed exploration contracts, and Brazil’s Petrobras (nyse: PBR - news - people) was conducting a feasibility study in the area.

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