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South Korea data: Iranian crude imports almost halve on year to 10.06 mil barrels in Mar

South Korea's crude oil imports from Iran fell 45.7% year on year to1.373 million mt (10.06 million barrels or 324,516 b/d) in March, from 18.54million barrels in the year-ago month, according to preliminary data by theKorea Customs Service Monday.

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This marks the fifth consecutive decline since November last year whenimports fell 26.8% year on year to 10.37 million barrels.

But the March imports were up 10.7% from 9.09 million barrels inFebruary.

For the first three months, Iranian crude imports plunged 42.3% year onyear to 26.96 million barrels, from 46.73 million barrels in same period lastyear.

In 2017, Iranian crude oil imports increased 32.1% to 147.87 millionbarrels. The country's monthly imports of Iranian crude had increased sinceJanuary 2016 when the US and EU lifted sanctions on Iran.

The sharp decrease in crude imports from Iran was largely attributable tofewer condensate shipments following the startup of new condensate splittersin the Gulf nation.

South Korea's crude oil imports from its biggest supplier Saudi Arabiaalso fell 16.7% year on year to 2.954 million mt, or 21.65 million barrels,last month, from 25.99 million barrels a year earlier.

It marks the first decline following rises for three months in a row. TheMarch imports were also down 28.9% from 30.47 million barrels in February.

In total, South Korea imported 10.914 million mt (80 million barrels or2.58 million b/d) of crude oil in March, down 16.6% from 95.91 million barrelsa year earlier.

It marked the first decline after increases for five months in a row. TheMarch imports were also down 15.3% from 94.45 million barrels in February.

For January-March the country's crude imports dipped 1.4% year on year to274.27 million barrels, compared with 278.18 million barrels in theyear-ago period.

In 2017, the country imported a total 1.118 billion barrels of crude oil,up 3.7% from 1.078 billion barrels in 2016.

The sharp decrease in crude oil imports in March came as the country'scrude stockpiles have increased.

South Korea's crude stockpiles jumped 30.6% year on year to 49.46 millionbarrels in end-February, compared with 37.87 million barrels a year earlier,according to data released late last month from state-owned Korea National OilCorp.

The country's crude stockpiles have steadily climbed on a yearly basisthrough since November 2015 on the back of increased crude oil importsfor the past months.

South Korean stockpiles of overall oil products also increased 4.2% yearon year to 64.91 million barrels in end-February.

Final oil trade data for March will be released later this month by KNOC.

-- Charles Lee, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Irene Tang, newsdesk@spglobal.com