(Bloomberg) -- Ivory Coast expects to be first in line should Eni SpA decide to sell a stake in its exploration business there, according to officials familiar with the information.

The Italian oil company is exploring divesting as much as 30% of the operation, Bloomberg reported earlier this week. Should it go ahead, Ivory Coast would seek to exercise its right to pre-empt a sale to anyone else, government officials said, asking not to be identified because the information is not public.

African nations have increasingly explored options to raise their involvement in oil and gas discoveries. But exercising a sovereign right of pre-emption would require raising the money to pay for the stake.

A government spokesman contacted by phone declined to comment on whether it would exercise such a right. Eni declined to comment.

Ivory Coast already holds a 17% stake in the operations and is prepared to accelerate fund-raising and ultimately transfer the assets to state-owned Petroci, one official said. Another person said the government would be interested in taking the entire 30% stake that’s potentially up for sale.

Eni started production at Baleine in August, less than two years after discovering the field, which has raised Ivory Coast’s status as a regional energy hub. The initial production phase will reach 15,000 barrels of oil a day and about 25 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, the government said in August last year.

--With assistance from Alberto Brambilla.

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