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Bank transaction clarity needed for resumption

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Tokyo — Japan's JXTG Holdings intends to resume loading oil from Iran at the end of January, while Cosmo Oil aims to load around 1.8 million barrels of Iranian crude at the end of this month upon making final clearance, the presidents of the companies told S&P Global Platts Monday.

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"We hope to resume [Iranian oil imports] as soon as possible," said Tsutomu Sugimori, president of JXTG Holdings, the parent of Japan's largest refiner, JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy. "As we see Iran as an important crude source, we intend to resume [the loadings] immediately as soon as it is clear to do so."

"Taking into account that after the 180-day period it remains uncertain whether we can load [from Iran] in March," Sugimori said on the sidelines of the New Year reception of the Petroleum Association of Japan in Tokyo.

But the pending clarity on "various procedures," which Sugimori declined to elaborate on, the resumption of Iranian oil loadings could be pushed back from January to February, he said.

"We hope to be able to resume [Iranian oil loadings] this month, with a possibility for them to be delayed to next month," Sugimori said.

Speaking to reporters Monday, PAJ president Takashi Tsukioka said the Japanese petroleum industry will continue to ask the government to secure an extension to the current 180-day sanctions waiver from the US.

Washington expects importers in eight countries with "significant reduction exemptions" to complete all Iranian oil transactions before May 5, a US government official told Platts on condition of anonymity in December. The official declined to say whether the US would consider additional exemptions covering May-November 2019.

BANK CLEARANCE NEEDED

Shunichi Tanaka, president of Cosmo Oil, said it is awaiting final clearance from Japanese banks before moving ahead to resume loadings from Iran, after having its shipping insurance concerns clarified, Tanaka said.

In order to resume Iranian oil loadings at the end of January, Tanaka said Cosmo Oil hopes to have clarity over bank transactions this week.

"We are looking to take around 1.8 million barrels on a tanker at the end of January," said Tanaka, adding that the company has already decided on a VLCC for its intended loading this month for discharge at its 177,000 b/d Chiba refinery in Tokyo Bay.

Platts reported on December 27 that at least two Japanese refiners were aiming to resume Iranian oil loadings -- effectively suspended in mid-September ahead of the reimposition of US sanctions on November 5 -- from the end of January amid emerging clarity on shipping insurance norms.

Japan was among eight countries to receive a 180-day waiver from the US sanctions. The waiver expires in May, when the country will be expected to cut purchases significantly.

However, a lack of clarity over rules for shipping insurance meant Japanese refiners were avoiding loadings of Iranian oil for January despite the waiver.

The latest development comes as Washington recently clarified some of Tokyo's concerns over insurance cover for Iranian oil shipping, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Japan did not import any crude from Iran in November for the first time since July 2012, during the last international sanctions against Tehran, when there was a brief suspension of loadings from Iran until the introduction of government-backed shipping insurance for protection and indemnity cover.

--Takeo Kumagai, takeo.kumagai@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Fox, newsdesk@spglobal.com