ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana has taken legal action under a U.N. convention to resolve a maritime border dispute with Ivory Coast over water close to oil fields licensed by British firm Tullow Oil.
Ghanaian Attorney General Marrieta Brew Appiah-Oppong said oil companies could continue to operate during the arbitration process, which could take up to three years.
Ghana filed the suit under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea after 10 bilateral meetings failed to resolve the issue, she said. The two countries have never officially agreed on the boundary and their maps of territorial waters overlap.
A resolution is crucial for oil and gas exploration and it could end any uncertainty for Tullow, which first discovered the Tweneboa, Enyenra, and Ntomme (TEN) cluster development in 2009 in Ghana's Deepwater Tano licence close to the disputed area.
"I don't think we will lose. We are extremely confident about this case," Appiah-Oppong told a news conference in the Ghanaian capital. There was no immediate comment from authorities in Ivory Coast.
Oil is a major source of revenue in Ghana, a politically stable country with a fast-growing economy that also yields gold and cocoa. Ivory Coast, the world's top producer of cocoa, is also growing strongly after years of political turmoil.
Earlier, Ghanaian Minister of Communications Edward Omane Boamah told Reuters the goal of the talks was a peaceful settlement and the government wanted to retain good relations with its western neighbour.
Tullow is the largest stakeholder in the TEN project and its partners are Anadarko, Kosmos Energy, Sabre Oil & Gas Holdings Ltd as well as the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation.
Oil exploration in Africa's Gulf of Guinea has accelerated since Ghana discovered the giant Jubilee offshore oil and gas field in 2007 and Tullow brought it online in record time in late 2010.
Ivory Coast, which drilled only a handful of exploration wells during a decade-long political crisis that ended in 2011, is now seeking to develop its potentially lucrative offshore oil and gas sector.
Ivory Coast accused Ghana in April 2013 of encroaching on a part of its maritime territory rich in hydrocarbons.
(Additional reporting and writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Mark Heinrich)