SEOUL South Korea's imports of Iranian crude oil nearly doubled from a year ago in August, as Tehran continues to regain market share after the easing of Western sanctions.
Seoul shipped in 1.1 million tonnes of crude oil from Iran, or 260,770 barrels per day (bpd), versus 552,710 tonnes imported a year earlier when sanctions against Tehran were still in place, South Korean customs data showed on Thursday.
In line with its effort to reclaim former sales, Iran has churned out oil at a breakneck pace this year, reaching 3.64 million bpd in June versus a 2015 average of 2.84 million bpd, following the easing of Western sanctions in January.
But output has stalled since June, suggesting Iran might be struggling to fulfill its plans to raise production to new highs while demanding to be excluded from any deals on supply curbs by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) aimed at shoring up weak global oil prices.
Arrivals in August edged down 0.1 percent from a month ago, as output remained steady over the past three months.
OPEC and non-OPEC members will meet to discuss an oil output freeze in Algiers on Sept. 26-28 on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum.
In the meantime, Iranian oil sales to Asia may stay strong as the OPEC producer cut September prices for its Iranian Light grade to the lowest in eight months.
South Korea, the world's No. 5 crude importer, brought in 8.33 million tonnes of Iranian crude in the first eight months of 2016, or 250,160 bpd, versus 3.78 million tonnes a year ago, up 120 percent.
South Korea's crude oil imports data usually includes condensate, but it does not provide a breakdown.
Overall, Asia's fourth-largest economy imported 11.52 million tonnes of crude last month, or 2.72 million bpd. This was 3 percent lower than the 11.87 million tonnes imported in August last year, the customs data showed.
Over January-August, South Korea imported 94.56 million tonnes of crude, or 2.84 million bpd, versus 91.88 million tonnes a year ago.
Final data for August crude oil imports will be released by state-run Korea National Oil Corp later this month.
(Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Richard Pullin)