Kuwait Oil Co (KOC), a unit of state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corp, began operating one of two long-delayed oil gathering centres on Monday, the official Kuwait News Agency reported.

"The GC 27, which was built by China National Petroleum Engineering Construction Corp, has a capacity of 190,000 barrels per day (bpd)," the agency late on Monday quoted KOC Chairman Abdulatif Hamad Al Tourah as saying.

The Chinese firm was awarded a $391.5 million project in 1995 to build gathering centres (GC) 27 and 28 with a total production capacity of 410,000 bpd. Under the original deal, the firm was to complete the project in 27 months.

Oil Minister Sheikh Saud Nasser Al Sabah had said the Chinese firm was scheduled to hand over GC 27 in December 2000 and GC 28 in February 2001. But industry experts said even if China Petroleum did indeed complete the project early next year, it could take several months to commission the centres.

Kuwait, which sits on almost 10 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves, currently produces around 2.2 million bpd compared with an Opec quota of 2.141 million bpd. Some of Kuwait's oil GCs were damaged during the 1991 Gulf War.