Seoul — South Korea's crude oil imports from Iran dropped 41% year on year in June ahead of the re-imposition of US sanctions on the Middle Eastern country, while intakes from Kazakhstan and Mexico jumped.
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The Northeast Asian country imported 5.49 million barrels of crude from Iran last month, compared with 9.31 million barrels a year earlier, data released late Monday by the Korea National Oil Corp. showed.
Crude inflow from Iran has been declining since November last year when imports fell 26.8% year on year to 10.37 million barrels. The June imports were also down 8.6% from May.
In 2017, South Korea's imports of Iranian crude were up 32.1% on the year at 147.87 million barrels.
The sharp decline in crude imports was also attributable to fewer condensate cargoes following the startup of new condensate splitters in Iran.
South Korea, one of the US' closest allies in Asia, requires US support in its quest to completely denuclearize North Korea and improve diplomatic and economic ties with Pyongyang this year.
In order to fill the loss of Iranian barrels, South Korean importers have increased imports from Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC suppliers.
Imports from its biggest supplier Saudi Arabia jumped 25.9% year on year to 32.33 million barrels in June.
Crude imports from other OPEC suppliers such as Iran, Kuwait and Qatar also increased, the data showed.
South Korea also imported more crude from alternative sources such as Kazakhstan, the US and Mexico.
Its imports of Kazakhstan's light CPC Blend more than doubled to 4.24 million barrels in June, while intake from Mexico jumped 90.2% year on year to 3.01 million barrels.
South Korea's crude imports from other Middle Eastern suppliers rose 10.6% year on year to 76.67 million barrels in June, KNOC data showed. June saw the first increase in crude imports from the Middle East, after nine months of fall.
Over January-June, imports from the Middle East fell 7.3% year on year to 427.25 million barrels, following an OPEC-led drive to limit production to balance an oversupplied market.
In total, South Korea imported 97.99 million barrels, or 3.27 million b/d, of crude oil in June, up 12.2% from a year earlier, the third consecutive month of increase. The June imports were also up 3% from May.
Over January-June, the country's crude imports rose 2.7% year on year to 557.44 million barrels.
As a result of the increased crude imports, South Korea's crude stocks rose 22.6% year on year to 53.07 million barrels in June, KNOC data showed. The country's crude stocks have been rising since November 2015.
South Korean stocks of oil products also rose 7.7% year on year to 67.3 million barrels in June.
South Korean refiners and condensate splitters processed 90.3 million barrels of crude in June, or 3.01 million b/d, up 7.5% from a year earlier.
-- Charles Lee, firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Edited by E Shailaja Nair, email@example.com