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South Korea's Iranian crude oil imports plunge 86.5% on year in Aug

Seoul — South Korea's crude oil imports from Iran plunged 86.5% in August from a year earlier due to pending re-imposition of US sanctions on Tehran, according to preliminary data released by the Korea Customs Service Monday.

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The country imported 232,723 mt (1.71 million barrels or 55,161 b/d) of Iranian crude, including condensate, in August, down 86.5% from 12.63 million barrels in the same month last year.

This marks the 10th consecutive decline since November last year when imports fell 26.8% year on year to 10.37 million barrels.

The volume of 1.71 million barrels was the smallest monthly imports since September 2012 when South Korea purchased no cargoes from Iran amid US-led sanctions on Iran. The August imports were also down 72.4% from 6.20 million barrels in July.

The data is based on customs clearance and there can be a time discrepancy between clearance and actual arrival of the goods, according to customs officials.

Most domestic importers told S&P Global Platts that they had no Iranian crude since August, with Platts trade flow software cFlow showing no oil cargoes from Iran to South Korea for delivery in August.

Final oil trade data for August will be released later this month by state-run Korea National Oil Corp.

For the first eight months this year, Iranian crude oil imports fell 42.3% year on year to 57.91 million barrels, from 100.44 million barrels in same period last year, according to the customs data.

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.

South Korea has been trying to pare back crude oil shipments from Iran for the past months in a bid to secure an exemption from the US' decision to re-impose sanctions on Tehran.

South Korea, one of the closest allies to the US in Asia Pacific, would be keen to abide by Washington's foreign policies as it requires full US support and influence in its quest to completely denuclearize North Korea and improve diplomatic and economic ties with Pyongyang.

The US has pressed Iran's oil customers, including South Korea, to completely eliminate imports by November 4. South Korea's crude oil imports from its biggest supplier Saudi Arabia also fell 4.8% year on year to 3.89 million mt, or 28.51 million barrels, in August, from 29.95 million barrels a year earlier. But the August imports were up 16.9% compared with 24.38 million barrels in July.

In total, South Korea imported 12.62 million mt (92.50 million barrels or 2.98 million b/d) of crude oil in August, down 8.8% from 101.45 million barrels a year earlier. But the August imports were also down 4.3% from 96.67 million barrels in July.

For January-August, the country's crude oil imports rose 1.2% year on year to 746.62 million barrels, compared with 737.72 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.

-- Charles Lee,

-- Edited by Irene Tang,