S.Korea imports Iranian crude oil in July despite EU ban

SEOUL Thu Aug 23, 2012 1:20am EDT

SEOUL Aug 23 (Reuters) - South Korea imported Iranian crude oil in July, despite a ban on shipments from July 1 due to European Union sanctions that restrict insurance on tankers carrying Iranian oil.

Asia's fourth-largest economy imported 4.26 million barrels last month, down 42 percent from a year earlier, data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp showed on Thursday.

The North Asian nation, usually the world's No.4 buyer of Iranian crude, imported 38.77 million barrels from Iran in the first seven months of this year, down 21 percent from a year ago, the KNOC data showed.

In June, South Korea became the first major Asian consumer of Iranian crude to announce a halt in imports after the government said shipments would be suspended from July 1 because of the European Union insurance ban.

South Korea's economy ministry sources said on Monday that domestic refiners would resume imports of up to 200,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude from September, shifting to Iran the responsibility of insurance, and ending the two-month gap.

Tehran offered to provide up to $1 billion of insurance cover to Iranian vessels shipping oil to South Korea as Iran has a major interest in keeping its crude flowing to South Korea, China, India and Japan - its top four customers.

The four countries, which buy more than half of Iran's oil exports, have slashed Iranian purchases this year, though, under pressure from EU and U.S. sanctions that aim to squeeze Tehran's oil income and curb its nuclear programme.

The West suspects Iran wants to develop weapons, a motive that Tehran denies. (Reporting by Meeyoung Cho;Editing by Clarence Fernandez)