* January shipments highest since Feb 2012
* State refiner IOC takes 3 mln bbls from Iran in Jan
* India's April-Jan Iran imports down 26 pct yr/yr
* India's total Jan oil imports down 9.3 pct yr/yr
By Nidhi Verma
NEW DELHI, Feb 21 India's oil imports from Iran more than doubled in January from a month earlier, with one state refiner returning from a three-month break as a buyer after sanctions on Tehran were eased due to the interim deal on its nuclear programme.
Yet, the jump may not signify a sudden flood of Iran's oil to the market as clients bump up imports. India was able to take more of the crude because it earlier cut its buys the most among Tehran's top clients and more than what was needed under the Western sanctions aimed at Iran's disputed nuclear ambitions.
India's oil purchase from Iran in January surged to 412,000 barrels per day (bpd), up from 189,100 bpd in December and 44 percent higher than a year ago, data compiled by Reuters showed.
January shipments from Iran were the highest since February 2012, shortly after new toughened sanctions from the United States and Europe went into effect, the data also showed. Iran was also India's second biggest supplier for a month for the first time since March 2012, the data showed.
The big jump last month brings India's imports from Iran over April-January to about 201,000 bpd, still a decline of 26 percent from the same 10 months a year earlier.
That's below a target of 220,000 bpd for the fiscal year that ends March 31, but if imports are held at close to the January levels, the earlier cuts could be wiped out.
If India's Iranian imports over February and March come in at 318,500 bpd, then its imports for the fiscal year would come in right at the targeted daily average - which represents a cut in the volumes of 15 percent from the previous year.
State-run Indian Oil Corp, the country's biggest refiner took Iranian oil in January after not getting oil from Tehran the previous three months, shipping in about 3 million barrels, the data showed.
This fiscal year so far Iran has accounted for about 5.3 percent of all crude imports, dropping to the seventh position in terms of volume compared with sixth a year ago.
To replace lost Iranian volumes, India imported about 14 percent more oil from Latin America in the April-January period, with the region accounting for about 19 percent of overall imports, up from about 17.7 percent a year ago.
The Middle East supplied about 62.2 percent of India's oil imports in April-January, about the same as a year ago.
Overall, India imported 3.7 million bpd of oil in January, up 5.1 percent from a year earlier.
(Editing by Tom Hogue)