TOKYO, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Japan's crude oil imports from Iran fell about 38 percent in September from a year earlier, data from the Ministry of Finance showed on Tuesday, as western sanctions continued to squeeze exports from the Middle Eastern country.
Japan, the world's third-biggest user of oil, imported 897,822 kilolitres (188,237 barrels per day) of Iranian crude last month, compared with 1,437,989 kl in September last year, according to customs-cleared data from the ministry.
Japan's trade ministry is due to release data on Wednesday which is more closely followed by the oil industry as it tracks the actual import status of tankers.
Crude importers can seek customs clearance within three months of a cargo's arrival or apply to have the load categorized as "import for storage" and held for up to two years before being cleared, meaning the finance ministry data can be out of date.
Japan is seeking an exemption from potential new U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports that will target payments by customers, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Japanese Finance Minister Koriki Jojima made the request to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in Washington on Oct. 11, the paper said. [ID: nL3E8LT9B6]
The planned restrictions would seek to ban all international banks, whether private or government-owned, from conducting transactions with any Iranian bank that is in any way connected to the Central Bank of Iran.
The West has applied sanctions on Iran because it suspects Tehran wants to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.
For the first nine months of 2012, Japan imported 13.85 million kl of Iranian crude, down 38.4 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the finance ministry.
Japan is set to import about 30 percent less crude oil from Iran for the rest of this year compared with a year earlier, the president of the Petroleum Association of Japan said last month.
Japan's imports of Iranian crude oil fell to zero in July for the first time since 1981, trade ministry data showed, confirming Reuters projections.
Imports resumed in August as Japan's government stepped in to provide a sovereign guarantee of up to $7.6 billion a tanker for shipments to keep the oil trade with Tehran going. (Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Ed Davies)