* Crude imports from Iran in March at 4.02 mln bbls -data
* Total March crude imports at 73.2 mln bbls, down 0.4 pct
* Dec 2012-March 2013 Iran crude imports at 162,107 bpd
By Meeyoung Cho
SEOUL, April 22 South Korea's imports of Iranian
crude in March fell 16.2 percent from a year ago to 4.02 million
barrels, data from the state-run Korea National Oil Corp showed
on Monday, after its biggest refiner SK Energy shut a crude unit
The world's No.5 crude oil buyer and one of Iran's top four
customers bought 129,710 barrels per day (bpd) in March, down
8.6 percent from a month ago although more than double the
volume projected earlier based on loading data.
But imports from sanctions-hit Iran should surge
month-on-month to 190,000 bpd in April as SK Energy's
110,000-bpd crude distillation unit returned to operation on
April 16 after 30 days of maintenance.
U.S. and European Union sanctions aimed at choking the flow
of oil money into Iran and forcing Tehran to negotiate curbing
its disputed nuclear programme have cut Iran's crude exports to
Asian importers such as Korea.
Crude imports from Iran in the first three months of the
year dropped 21.6 percent from the same period last year to
13.89 million barrels, the data showed.
South Korea's total crude oil imports came in at 73.22
million barrels in March, down 0.4 percent from a year earlier,
according to KNOC's data.
Its two buyers of Iranian crude, refiners SK Energy and
Hyundai Oilbank, are shutting a combined 560,000 bpd of refinery
capacity for planned maintenance between March and June.
South Korea, which reduced crude imports from Iran by more
than a third to 153,400 barrels per day last year, is aiming for
a 20 percent cut in the six months to May 31 from a year ago to
secure an extension to a waiver from U.S. sanctions when
Washington examines the issue in May.
Korea imported 162,107 bpd of Iranian oil from December
through March, according to Reuters calculations based on the
latest KNOC data, versus 184,727 bpd from December 2011 through
To meet the target of reducing Iranian imports, South Korea
will have to cut 14,326 bpd or 8.8 percent from the
(Editing by Himani Sarkar)