South Korea’s Jan Iran crude imports down 16.1 pct y/y

SEOUL, Feb 22 (Reuters) – South Korea’s imports of crude oil from Iran fell 16.1 percent in January from a year earlier under U.S. sanctions pressure targeting Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme, data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp showed on Friday.

The world’s fifth-largest crude oil buyer imported a total 81.71 million barrels of crude oil in January, up 2.8 percent from a year earlier, the data showed.

Preliminary data from the economy ministry showed earlier this month that South Korea’s crude oil imports in January rose 0.9 percent from a year earlier to 80.1 million barrels.

Of this total, 5.896 million barrels, or 190,194 barrels per day (bpd), came from Iran last month, down 16.1 percent from a year ago, the KNOC data showed. Compared with December, its imports of Iranian crude oil last month rose 3 percent.

South Korea is one of Iran’s biggest oil customers, but imports have fallen as European Union sanctions made it tough to ship, insure and pay for the oil. The West has imposed sanctions on Iran as it suspects Tehran wants to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Iran denies.

South Korean refiners resumed importing Iranian crude oil last September for October arrivals after a two-month halt, importing about 200,000 bpd or full contracted volumes, after finding a way around the EU ban on insurance cover.

South Korea, which reduced crude imports from Iran by 36 percent to 153,400 barrels per day last year, is aiming for a 20 percent cut year on year in the six months to May 31 to secure an extension to the waiver when it comes up for renewal in May.

From December of 2011 through May of 2012, South Korea imported 184,700 bpd of crude oil from Iran, according to Reuters calculation based on KNOC monthly import data.

The combined imports of Iranian crude in December and January brought daily imports to 187,400 bpd for the period.

To meet the target of reducing Iranian imports 20 percent December through May compared to the same period year on year, South Korea will have to cut Iranian crude imports nearly 40,000 bpd or over 20 percent from the December-January rate.

Of four South Korean refiners, SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank import Iranian crude.

KNOC data do not include the country’s imports of condensate, a light oil usually processed in a unit called a splitter to produce petrochemical feedstock naphtha.

Samsung Total Petrochemicals, split evenly between its South Korean and French partners, stopped further purchases of Iranian condensate after the European half objected, Total’s head of refining Patrick Pouyanne told Reuters earlier this month.

Samsung Total had resumed buying Iranian condensate with a spot March cargo after a year’s hiatus, unable to resist the lure of cheap oil from Iran to offset thin margins in plastics, people familiar with the deal told Reuters last month.

By Reuters


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