China's April crude imports from Iran more than doubled from a year ago to a record of nearly 800,000 barrels per day (bpd), pushing imports in the first four months of 2014 above levels seen before tougher Western sanctions were applied in 2012.
China's crude imports from Iran in April rose 115.3 percent to 799,865 bpd, customs data showed on May 21, accelerating a rise in its intake from the OPEC member after the November nuclear deal that eased some sanctions on Tehran, Reuters reported.
Under the temporary deal, Iran's exports are supposed to be held at an average 1 million bpd for the six months to July 20, but shipments to Asia have topped that level since November, according to customs and ship tracking data.
China's imports, added to India's intake of about 225,000 bpd in April and South Korea's 135,000 bpd, have put Asia's shipments of Iranian crude over the 1 million bpd limit for another month.
China's imports from Iran have been higher this year largely due to new volumes of condensate, a super light crude, and also because top refiner Sinopec Corp may have boosted liftings under a long-term agreement, traders said.
On a daily basis, China's April imports of Iranian oil rose 44 percent from March's 555,182 bpd.
China's oil arrivals from Iran in the first four months of this year were at 618,170 bpd, up 54.5 percent from a year ago.
China may have trouble holding down its Iranian oil imports in 2014 as state-run trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp is negotiating a new condensate contract to supply an independent petrochemical firm Dragon Aromatics, Reuters has reported.
Dragon Aromatics has since the second half of 2013 been buying condensate from Iran as feedstock.
Sinopec, under a new push to cut crude purchase costs, may have stepped up Iranian oil lifting since late 2013 as the supplies are deemed competitive versus similar grades from Saudi Arabia, traders have said.
China's total crude imports rose more than a fifth in April from a year earlier to a record high of 6.78 million bpd, official data have showed, helped by higher seasonal demand and indications of stockpiling.
Iran's oil exports dropped for a second month in April, the International Energy Agency said last week, moving closer to the levels allowed by November's interim deal on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.