Iran Endures Longest Gap in China Oil Buying in at Least 3 Years



(Bloomberg) -- Iran just endured the longest gap without sending oil to its biggest customer in at least three years as imminent U.S. sanctions pile pressure onto Tehran.

Two supertankers left Iran’s biggest export terminal bound for China late Wednesday, ending an 18-day hiatus, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

While the pause in shipments probably doesn’t mean China will to bow to pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump -- Beijing is said to have resisted such curbs -- it might indicate that the Asian country’s refineries want better terms for Iranian cargoes.

Regardless of the motivation, flows to China have plunged at a difficult moment for Iran, with buyers including South Korea, France and others either reducing or completely stopping their purchases due to U.S. pressure. Tanker tracking compiled by Bloomberg indicates that OPEC’s fourth-largest exporter is already having to store barrels amid dwindling demand.

China was the largest buyer of Iranian crude last year, accounting for almost a third of Iran’s crude and condensate exports. The Middle East country’s exports so far this month slumped to around 1.3 million barrels a day. They were as high as 3 million a day back in 2016, the tanker tracking data show.

The Dino I and Dune, which can haul 4 million barrels between them, departed Kharg Island in the northern Persian Gulf within an hour of each other late Wednesday. Before that, the last vessel to make the journey was the supertanker Starla, which left on Aug. 25 carrying two million barrels of crude to Ningbo.

The pause in shipments to China has coincided with the return of Iranian oil stored on tankers close to the country’s export terminals. There are currently eight tankers holding 14 million barrels of Iranian crude or condensate, a form of light crude extracted from gas fields, anchored in the Persian Gulf.

Vessel Class Date loaded Cargo Volume (barrels) Location Felicity VLCC 06-Aug Condensate 2,000,000 Jebel Ali Salina Suez 16-Aug Condensate 1,000,000 Jebel Ali Navarz VLCC 24-Aug Crude 2,000,000 Kharg Happiness I VLCC 01-Sep Crude 2,000,000 Kharg Humanity VLCC 03-Sep Crude 1,000,000 Soroosh Hedy VLCC 03-Sep Crude 2,000,000 Kharg Halti VLCC 06-Sep Crude 2,000,000 Kharg Sea Cliff VLCC 09-Sep Crude 2,000,000 Kharg

On average during the first eight months of this year Iran shipped 660,000 barrels a day of oil to China. To maintain that rate of purchases, five to six supertankers, also known as very large crude carriers, should have left for China in the past 18 days.

Previously, the longest gap between vessels leaving Iran for China was 15 days between March 20 and April 4, but most of the time it’s 3 days or less. The last big interruption came after a flood of crude on the trade route in the first half of March. That’s not been the case this time. The tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg start in July 2015.

With assistance from Javier Blas. To contact the reporter on this story: Julian Lee in London at jlee1627@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaric Nightingale at anightingal1@bloomberg.net John Deane.



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