* Crude imports from Iran fell 32.4 pct from previous month
* Imports from Kuwait, Qatar rise sharply
* Iran accounts for 4.8 pct of Japan's April crude imports
TOKYO, May 31 Japan's crude oil imports from
Iran fell 26.1 percent in April from a year earlier, as the
world's third-largest oil consumer stares at a complete halt in
imports from the OPEC member from July due to tightening Western
Imports from Qatar and Kuwait rose 44.4 percent and 61.0
percent respectively as Japan, the world's third-largest
economy, sought alternative supplies.
Iran's share of Japan's crude imports fell to 4.8 percent
from 7.2 percent a year earlier, making the Islamic Republic the
sixth biggest supplier to Japan, down from fourth last year.
Japanese crude buyers are making the cutbacks to comply with
Western sanctions against Tehran over its disputed nuclear
programme that make it tough to pay for, ship and insure oil
from the Islamic Republic.
Japan's imports from Iran fell to 189,100 barrels per day
(bpd) last month, against 10.2 percent rise in overall crude oil
imports to 3.93 million bpd, data from the Japanese Ministry of
Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) showed on Thursday.
The cuts came even after Japan secured a six-month waiver
from U.S. financial sanctions on Iran in March, and despite an
increase in overall oil demand after last year's Fukushima
An EU ban on insuring Iranian tankers goes into effect from
July 1, effectively stopping shipments because most ships are
covered by European insurers and reinsurers.
April imports from Japan's top supplier Saudi Arabia
increased 9.7 percent from a year ago to 1.07 million bpd while
purchases from United Arab Emirates, the No. 2 exporter to the
north Asian country, rose by 20.1 percent to 1 million bpd.
Qatar and Kuwait were Japan's third and fourth-biggest
suppliers in April.
In March, imports from Iran fell 36.4 percent year-on-year
to 270,700 bpd.
Japan's Ministry of Finance released customs-cleared crude
imports data, including those from Iran, for April on Wednesday,
but the oil industry regards the METI data as the benchmark
because it tracks the actual import status of oil tankers.
The Ministry of Finance data showed that customs-cleared
crude imports from Iran tumbled 65.5 percent from a year earlier
to 564,962 kl (118,450 bpd) in April.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Risa Maeda; Editing by Aaron
Sheldrick and Himani Sarkar)