Iran oil exports on track for 4-1/2-yr high as European buying recovers -source

* Loadings at 2.31 mln bpd in June, up 4.5 pct from May -source

* Oil exports to Europe recover to near pre-sanctions level

TOKYO, June 14 (Reuters) - Iran’s oil exports are on track to hit the highest in almost 4 1/2 years in June, as shipments to Europe recover to near pre-sanctions level, according to a source with knowledge of the country’s crude lifting plans.

Tehran’s oil sales have nearly doubled since December, the last month before sanctions targeting its disputed nuclear programme were lifted, and the increase in sales should help offset some of the current global supply outages.

Iran is regaining market share at a faster pace than analysts had projected since sanctions were lifted in January, helped by securing more tankers through a temporary shipping insurance fix.

June loadings of crude and condensate are up by about 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) from last month to 2.31 million bpd in June, the source said.

The overall figure is more than a double the same month a year ago, and the highest since January 2012, before Western sanctions were introduced, based on U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

Exports to Europe in June recovered to about 580,000 bpd, up from 530,000 bpd in May and nearly six times greater than prior to sanctions being lifted, the source said.

Before sanctions were enforced in mid-2012, Iran was exporting about 2.2 million bpd of crude, with Europe taking about 600,000 bpd, according to the International Energy Agency.

Tehran’s re-entry into the oil market has heightened tensions with arch-rival Saudi Arabia and helped thwart efforts by OPEC to limit output to boost oil prices.

Iran has resisted Saudi Arabia’s calls to cap output, while Riyadh aggressively expands sales ahead of an IPO for its state firm.

Iran’s loadings to Asia were 1.62 million bpd in June, up slightly from May but down from this year’s high of 1.71 million bpd in April, according to the source.

Loadings for China, Iran’s biggest customer, were nearly 610,000 bpd in June, a three-month low. India’s loadings were about 406,000 bpd, while South Korea is at a multiple-year high of 323,000 bpd. Japan is loading about 290,000 bpd, the highest since April.

Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey are all loading Iranian oil, according to the source. Poland is also lifting about 67,000 bpd this month, the first purchase since last August.

Greece and Spain will take 67,000 bpd each this month, while Italy is lifting half that.

Royal Dutch Shell resumed loading Iranian oil at the end of May, lifting about 1.1 million barrels and becoming the second major oil firm after Total to buy from Tehran.

Editing by Ed Davies