SEOUL, Sept 24 (Reuters) – South Korea imported no crude oil from Iran in August due to European Union restrictions on shipping insurance, but purchases in September are expected to be up to 200,000 barrels per day, or back to full contracted volumes, after skirting sanctions.
South Korea’s overall crude oil imports rose 11.2 pct in August from the same month a year ago as it increased shipments from other Middle Eastern producers, according to data from the state-run Korea National Oil Corp.
South Korea is the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer, and one of Iran’s biggest oil customers. Its imports from Iran during the first eight months of the year were 38.77 million barrels, down 32.2 percent from a year ago, KNOC said.
Iranian crude oil imports between January-August were equivalent to about 159,000 barrels per day.
South Korea stopped importing Iranian crude from July 1 due to the EU ban, which is part of a raft of Western sanctions aimed at cutting Iran’s oil revenues and squeezing funding to its disputed nuclear programme.
Seoul, however, brought in an unexpected 137,400 bpd of crude from Iran in July because of shipment delays to June cargoes, KNOC data released in August showed.
In a bid to keep crude flowing to its top Asian customers, Iran offered to provide up to $1 billion of insurance cover to Iranian vessels shipping its oil and last week South Korea’s SK Energy lifted a 2-million-barrel cargo in Iran.
Sources at the economy ministry also said last month that South Korean refiners planned to resume from September monthly imports of up to 6 million barrels, or 200,000 barrels per day, of Iranian crude.
The West suspects Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.
Of South Korea’s four refiners, only SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank import Iranian crude.
SK Energy’s term contracts with Iran this year provide for imports of two Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) of crude per month, or 4 million barrels, and Hyundai Oilbank imports one VLCC per month, or 2 million barrels, sources say.
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