* Iran struggling to sell and ship crude to top customers
* Iran supertanker unloads at Shell Singapore refinery
* Shell declines comment
SINGAPORE, March 2 (Reuters) - An Iranian supertanker loaded with crude that traders had speculated Tehran was struggling to sell due to tightening sanctions is now moored at Shell’s Singapore refinery to discharge its cargo, according to Reuters data and sources.
The 270,000-tonne tanker Delvar arrived late on Thursday at Bukom island, where Shell’s 500,000 barrel-per-day refinery is located, Reuters Freight Fundamentals Database showed.
The vessel, part of the fleet of the National Iranian Tanker Co, is due to discharge 1.5 million barrels of crude, three source said on Friday.
“Yes, Shell bought it. There is no other reason for it to be anchored at Bukom,” said a Singapore-based ship broker.
U.S. and European sanctions, aimed at forcing Iran to halt suspected development of nuclear weapons, are hampering Iran’s ability to sell its crude oil, which generates most of the country’s foreign exchange.
Washington will impose sanctions from June 28 on companies facilitating Iran’s oil trade, but many companies are already preparing for the deadline.
Anglo-Dutch Shell, which industry sources say is one of the biggest consumers of Iranian crude worldwide, said: “We do not comment on our trading activities. Shell complies with all applicable sanctions.”
In the latest evidence that the sanctions threat is disrupting Iran’s trade, industry sources said Shipping Corp of India was forced last month to cancel at least one Iranian crude shipment because it couldn’t secure insurance cover for the vessel.
Tehran’s Japanese customers are seeking the inclusion of force majeure clauses in term supply contracts with Iran in case they are unable to pay or transport cargoes in the future, industry sources said.
Japan, China and India are Iran’s top crude buyers, taking about 45 percent of Iran’s 2.6 million barrels per day of exports.
The Delvar arrived on Feb. 23 off Indonesia’s Karimun Island, an offshore storage point near the oil-trading hub of Singapore that is often used for ship-to-ship transfers (STS).
The arrival sparked speculation in oil markets that the cargo was crude that Iran had been unable to sell elsewhere because of the sanctions. Local oil traders said NITC vessels have not been known to call at Karimun Island in the past.
The Delvar moved into Singapore waters on Feb. 26 after discharging a cargo of condensate into a smaller, China-bound tanker.
The 60,000-tonne vessel, Xuan Wu Hu, was bound for an oil complex in Huizhou, where China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) and Shell jointly operate a petrochemical complex.
Industry source say Shell takes around 100,000 bpd of Iranian crude into Europe and a similar quantity into Japan under a deal with Japanese company Showa Shell that expires in March.
Shell Chief Executive Peter Voser declined to detail Shell’s Iranian crude purchases when speaking on Feb. 2 in a company earnings briefing.
“Shell will comply with the sanctions and we will therefore get our crude from somewhere else,” Voser said.
Singapore imported around 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude over the past year, industry estimates show. Official data on Iranian imports to Singapore is not available.
Shell’s Bukom refinery, the oil major’s largest, makes up the biggest share of this volume, industry sources said.
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