Report: India, South Korea, Japan to increase oil imports from Iran

Azerbaijan, Baku, Jun.28/ Trend R.Zamanov

India, South Korea, and Japan plan to increase their oil imports from Iran as from the next month, the Fars News Agency reported.

The three had decreased their oil imports because of insurance problems, but now by approving Iranian companies as underwriters they plan to increase their oil imports from Tehran.

India has announced it will grant permission to foreign tankers to unload Iranian oil shipments in the country's ports under certain conditions.

It was announce in April that India has approved two Iranian ship underwriters among nine new ship insurers who are not part of a global body and whose liability cover against risks will be accepted by India's ports. Kish P&I Club, founded by a group of Iranian ship owners on Kish Island located in the Persian Gulf, and Tehran-based Moallem Insurance Co., are the two underwriters whose applications were accepted by India's Directorate General of Shipping, ISNA News Agency reported.

Japan has also said it plans to increase oil imports from Iran because it failed to replace Tehran with another reliable source.

Hyundai Oilbank has also confirmed that negotiations with Tehran are in the final stages and the company will resume oil imports in September. Meanwhile, another South Korean company announced that it will resume oil imports from Tehran in July, the Fars News Agency reported.

This is at the same time of Reuters June 24 report stating that South Korea has pledged to the United States that it will cut imports of Iranian crude by 15 per cent in the next six months to secure its next waiver to U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear programme.

U.S. and European measures aimed at curbing Iran's oil shipments and depriving Tehran of its main source of funds drove crude exports to the lowest in decades in May.

The curbs have cost Iran billions of dollars in lost revenue and Washington is now seeking to cut Iran's exports further by tighter sanctions.

Earlier this month, Washington renewed a six-month exemption on sanctions for China, India, South Korea and six other economies in exchange for their agreeing to reduce purchases of oil from Iran.

The exemptions will next come up for review in November and any country failing to achieve a waiver is liable for sanctions that exclude its banks from the U.S. financial system.

South Korea's government has instructed refiners to make the import cuts, the two sources familiar with the plan said after meetings between U.S. and South Korean officials.

"The refiners have been unofficially told by the government to reduce imports in the next six months by 15 per cent more compared to the previous six months," said one of the sources. The second source confirmed the plan. Both declined to be identified because they are not authorised to speak to the media.

The cut would leave South Korean refiners importing just under 126,000 barrels per day (bpd) over the six months to November, according to Reuters calculation based on data from the state-run Korea National Oil Corp.

Imports from Iran to South Korea for December to May stood at 148,016 bpd, down 20 per cent from a year ago. Officials at South Korea's energy ministry, foreign affairs ministry and the presidential office declined to comment.

South Korean refiners SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank are the only two in the country to import Iranian crude. Spokesmen at both refineries declined to comment.

The cut is being made against the previous six months rather than from a year earlier because South Korea's oil imports between June and November last year were low due to a two-month import halt over insurance problems, one of the sources said.

For part of last year, a European ban on Iranian oil shipping insurance made it hard for South Korean refiners to find ships to import Iranian oil resulting in a drop in imports to 115,245 bpd between June and November of 2012.

Iranian oil imports to South Korea resumed from October of 2012 as Iran offered its own ships to transport the oil.

Sanctions are one of Washington's main strategies to choke funding to Iran's nuclear programme. Western countries suspect Tehran aims to develop weapons, while Iran says the programme is for peaceful purposes.

U.S. lawmakers aim to deal a bigger blow to Iran's diminishing oil exports. While they are still working out the details, analysts say the ultimate goal could be a near total halt.

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