THE chief executive of Bowleven, Kevin Hart, has said the company has been offered a range of acquisition opportunities since completing a $250m (£168m) stake sale in Africa but will focus on its existing assets for now.

The Edinburgh-based company raised a big cash war chest by selling parts of its interest in a licence off Cameroon last week. This could put it in a strong position to cut deals at a time when many firms are struggling with the effects of the slump in the oil price.

Mr Hart said the completion of the sale to Lukoil of Russia and Cameroon's New Age has been followed by calls to Bowleven from investment bankers, who look to broker mergers and acquisitions.

"It's amazing how popular you become when you're one of the probably only three companies in the sector that have cash on the balance sheet," he said.

However, noting that the slump in the price of crude has caused problems across the industry, he added: "There's lots of opportunities out there but quite a lot of them require pretty significant capital to realise them."

Mr Hart said Bowleven would consider acquisitions in areas including the North Sea if the right opportunity came along. But he stressed the company wants to make sure it retains sufficient capital to maximise the potential of its current assets.

"The key on the balance sheet and the cash is one of prudence. It's about making sure we have sufficient financial capability to take the assets forward," said Mr Hart, who has led Bowleven since 2006.

The company has faced some big funding issues on his watch. In December 2008 an analyst said Bowleven was effectively dead in the water because of the challenges it faced raising funding amid volatility at the time in oil and gas and financial markets.

Bowleven received the first $165m of the stake sale proceeds last week. It had $155m cash and no debt at 24 March.

It has retained a portfolio that includes a residual 20 per cent stake in the Etinde permit off Cameroon.

Bowleven is working with New Age and Lukoil on plans to bring finds made on the acreage into production.

Mr Hart said the companies hope there may be much more gas to find on the acreage, which helped to explain the interest of the giant Lukoil in the area.

Bowleven hopes to start work soon on a two well drilling programme on the Bomono licence onshore Cameroon.

Mr Hart said if the company finds oil or gas in commercial quantities it could use some of the proceeds of the stake sale to bring discoveries onstream fairly rapidly.

Bowleven also has early stage exploration interests in Kenya and Zambia. Work in Kenya has been delayed amid security concerns.

The completion of the stake sale came nine months after Bowleven agreed the deal, shortly before the crude price started falling.

Mr Hart said: "I would love to say with hindsight it was genius and we saw the oil price crash coming and we're shoring up the balance sheet."

Asked how he felt following a long wait for official approval for the stake sale from the Cameroon authorities, Mr Hart said: "I think we were more tired than anything else by the end of it."

But, he added: "We signed it in June and it completed in March. That by African standards is not a long period."

Mr Hart said the Cameroon Government remained positive about the deal all along. None of the parties to the deal ever looked like walking away although the deadline for completion had to be extended three times.

Bowleven lost $81m in the six months to 31 December, compared with a loss of $6.6m in the same period of the preceding year.

The company provided $76m against the value of the remaining stake in the Etinde permit mainly to reflect the fall in oil prices.

It is due to get the remaining $85m for the stake sale in cash and cost contributions as work on Etinde progresses.