TOKYO Oct 19 Japanese traders including
Marubeni Corp and Sumitomo Corp that stopped
buying Iranian oil during western sanctions are looking to
resume imports, potentially by year-end, industry sources said.
Conservative Japanese firms have so far held off taking
Iranian crude due to a lack of internationally acceptable
insurance coverage, but are looking at ways of using cover
provided by the Japanese government, the sources said.
The traders seeking to restart purchases together imported
around 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian oil before
sanctions were imposed and renewed purchases would give a boost
to Tehran's aim of increasing its exports to 4 million bpd.
Other Asian buyers have stepped up purchases of Iranian oil
since sanctions were lifted in January, with Iranian imports to
Asia, excluding Japan, jumping to 1.60 million bpd in August, up
92 percent on a year ago.
Buyers have taken advantage of a scheme put together by ship
owners to plug a shortfall in insurance cover due to ongoing
restrictions on U.S.-domiciled reinsurers, but Japanese firms
have been reluctant to take part.
Trading houses have been waiting for private shipping
insurance to return to full coverage, which could come as early
as this year. But some traders now hope to piggyback on a
Japanese government scheme that has been providing ongoing cover
for so-called "essential" imports of Iranian oil throughout the
The government-cover enabled refiners and trading houses
such as Mitsubishi Corp and Toyota Tsusho to
import Iranian oil even after the sanctions were imposed in
"One solution would be to co-load oil with other buyers,"
said a source with a trading house. Oil loaded on vessels
already covered by the government scheme would also be fully
insured, they said.
Earlier this month, Mitsui & Co resumed taking
Iranian oil for the first time since at least 2012, co-loading
Iranian condensate with a major Japanese refiner on a tanker, a
source familiar with the shipping schedule said. Mitsui declined
Marubeni, which bought Iranian crude, condensate, naphtha
and fuel oil until 2012, confirmed it had been working to
restart purchases. A company source told Reuters it hoped to
resume imports by the end of the year.
Sumitomo, which bought liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from
Iran before the sanctions, was also looking to buy Iranian oil
and LPG as long as prices were competitive, an industry source
close to the matter said. The company declined to comment.
Itochu Corp said it was considering resuming
imports of Iranian oil, while trading house Kanematsu Corp
which last bought Iran crude in 2010, is also looking
to resume purchases at an early date, but has not yet lined up
any customers, a company source told Reuters.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and