November 22, 2018 / 1:29 PM / 23 days ago

Iran's oil exports drop sharply on sanctions: Petro-Logistics

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran’s oil exports have dropped by several hundred thousand barrels per day (bpd) this month, a leading tanker-tracking company said on Thursday, suggesting U.S. sanctions that kicked in this month have scared off many buyers.

Geneva-based Petro-Logistics, which tracks oil supply from OPEC members and other major exporters, said shipments dropped steeply in early November as customers awaited clarity on whether the U.S. administration would issue waivers.

“Iranian crude exports so far in November are down several hundred thousand barrels per day from October levels,” Petro-Logistics Chief Executive Daniel Gerber told Reuters.

“The low volumes we saw in the beginning of the month were due to buyer reluctance to schedule loadings while awaiting clarity on sanctions waivers.”

Petro-Logistics did not provide a precise figure on November exports, conceding that shipments have become more opaque since the sanctions took effect this month.

Two other companies that also track the exports declined to give November figures.

However, a drop of several hundred thousand bpd would bring Iranian crude exports this month closer to 1 million bpd, based on industry estimates of October exports.

Iran exported 1.85 million bpd in October according to Kpler, a data intelligence company, and 1.5 million bpd according to another firm that monitors Iranian shipments.

‘HIDDEN’

Other estimates of exports this month are even lower. According to Refinitiv Eikon data, shipments have plunged to about 100,000 bpd to date in November. Another source estimated 340,000 bpd in the first half of the month.

Such figures, however, are probably not counting all the tankers that switch off their AIS signal, an automatic tracking system used on ships, making them effectively “off radar”.

“It is incredibly opaque and the majority of the trade is hidden,” Gerber said. “We believe that volumes have been picking up in the past week.”

Exports could start to rise after November due to the U.S. sanctions exemptions granted to eight buyers, allowing them to import at least some oil for another 180 days.

Shipments have fallen significantly from at least 2.5 million bpd in April, before U.S. President Donald Trump in May withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions.

Iran has vowed to keep exporting oil despite the U.S. effort to reduce its shipments to zero.

Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar; editing by Jason Neely

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