By LUIS MANUEL GALEANO
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) â¿¿ Spain's Repsol is interested in exploring for oil off Nicaragua's Caribbean coast and its explorations could include waters that were recently awarded to the Central American country by an international court, an official said Wednesday.
Nicaraguan Energy and Mines Minister Emilio Rappaccioli said Repsol has already submitted an official request to the Nicaraguan government and it has started doing some preliminary studies.
The company is exploring some areas in order to assess the feasibility of searching for oil there and once that's decided they will determine where to conduct more in-depth searches, he added.
"The preliminary studies have been done in the north (part of the Caribbean), but respecting the areas that cannot be touched for environmental reasons," Rappaccioli said.
He said Nicaragua would allow Repsol to look for oil in the waters the International Court of Justice awarded them last month after ruling on a dispute over territory with Colombia.
"For us (the judgment and the new limits) are a reality," Rappaccioli said. "Colombia should have heeded (the court's decision) without doubt or discussion."
The court on Nov. 19 affirmed Colombian sovereignty over a group of tiny islands off Nicaragua but also granted a large swath of the surrounding sea and seabed to Nicaragua.
Those waters are valued for potential oil and gas deposits beneath them but Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, under pressure from environmentalists, had placed a moratorium on exploratory drilling in the area.
The court's decision affecting the San Andres and Providencia archipelago is final and not subject to appeal.
Tensions spiked in the area after the decision was announced and Nicaraguan fishermen complained that Colombian military frigates and helicopters were harassing them in the newly acquired waters.
The archipelago is home to one of the largest barrier reefs in the Americas, the 100-square-mile (255-square-kilometer) old Providence reef. The rich marine habitat was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000. The reef is part of Colombia.