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Seoul — South Korea's crude oil imports from Iran fell 24.9% year on year to 1.24 million mt (9.09 million barrels or 303,000 b/d) in April, from 12.11 million barrels in the year-ago month, according to preliminary data released by the Korea Customs Service Tuesday.

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This marks the sixth consecutive decline since November last year when imports fell 26.8% year on year to 10.37 million barrels.

The April imports were also down 21.6% from 11.6 million barrels in March.

For the first four months, Iranian crude imports fell 36.1% year on year to 37.59 million barrels, from 58.84 million barrels in same period last year.

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

The sharp decrease in crude imports from Iran was largely attributable to fewer condensate shipments following the startup of new condensate splitters in the Persian Gulf nation.

In order to fill the gap, South Korean importers have increased light sweet crude imports from alternative sources such as Russia, the US and Kazakhstan.

Imports of Iranian crude are expected to further slide in the wake of the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran.

South Korea's crude oil imports from its biggest supplier Saudi Arabia also fell 7.6% year on year to 3.317 million mt, or 24.31 million barrels, last month, from 26.3 million barrels a year earlier.

It marks the second consecutive decline following rises for three months in a row. But the April imports were up 11.4% from 21.82 million barrels in March.

In total, South Korea imported 11.587 million mt (84.93 million barrels or 2.83 million b/d) of crude oil in April, up 0.5% from 84.52 million barrels a year earlier.

The April imports were also up 2.5% from 82.84 million barrels in March.

For January-April, the country's crude imports edged down 0.2% year on year to 362.05 million barrels, compared with 362.71 million barrels in the year-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 rise in crude oil imports in April came despite a sharp increase in the country's crude stockpiles.

South Korea's crude stockpiles increased 18.4% year on year to 47.71 million barrels as of end-March, compared with 40.29 million barrels a year earlier, according to data released late last month from state-owned Korea National Oil Corp.

The country's crude stockpiles have steadily climbed on a yearly basis through since November 2015 on the back of increased crude oil imports for the past months.

South Korean stockpiles of overall oil products also increased 5.2% year on year to 63.15 million barrels in end-March.

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

-- Charles Lee,

-- Edited by Irene Tang,