Australia's Tap Oil Ltd has taken an 85 per cent stake in an oil exploration project in the Sulu Sea in the southern Philippines, local partners in the consortium said on Wednesday.

Universal Robina Corp, Oriental Petroleum and Minerals Corp, and Anglo Philippine Holdings Corp said in separate statements they had signed up to the project.

Tap Oil will shoulder the cost of acquisition and interpretation of 300 sq km of three-dimensional seismic survey, Oriental Petroleum said.

The company said a survey would be conducted by the year-end to identify possible areas that could be drilled. No other details were immediately available.

Oil companies are turning back to Asian exploration as reserves dwindle despite high equipment costs and a lack of skilled labour in countries such as the Philippines.

Royal Dutch Shell, the Philippine National Oil Co and the local unit of Australia's Nido Petroleum Ltd are taking part in a 2-D seismic survey of 10,000 km (6,210 miles) off the western Philippine island of Palawan.

The Philippines imports crude and oil products mostly from Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also exports petroleum products to neighbouring Asian countries.

The Southeast Asian country's net oil imports reached 52.4 million barrels in January-June, more than eight per cent down on the same period last year.