SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s crude oil imports from Iran dropped 31.2 percent in February from a year ago to 1.12 million tonnes, or 294,274 barrels per day (bpd), customs data showed on Thursday.
The nation’s imports of Iranian oil have faltered in the wake of a technical problem at Iran’s South Pars field last year and after an Iranian oil tanker sank en route to South Korea in January.
However, February imports were up 18.3 percent from January.
In the first two months of 2018, South Korea’s Iranian oil shipments fell 39.5 percent to 2.07 million tonnes, compared to 3.43 million tonnes over the same period last year, according to the data.
South Korea is one of Asia’s major Iranian oil importers and mainly buys condensate, or an ultra-light oil, from the Middle Eastern country.
Iran has ramped up its crude and condensate exports since sanctions over its nuclear program were lifted in 2016. In recent months, Tehran has stepped up efforts to retain its Asian customers amid uncertainties over a potential renewal of U.S. sanctions.
Iran’s crude and condensate exports in March were expected to drop to a two-year low as Asia’s demand for its oil softens, according to a person with knowledge of the country’s tanker loading schedule.
South Korea’s total February crude oil imports were 12.55 million tonnes, or 3.29 million bpd, up 6.2 percent from 11.81 million tonnes last year, according to the data.
South Korea’s oil imports from Kuwait jumped 21.2 percent to 2.19 million tonnes, or 572,947 bpd, from 1.81 million tonnes in 2017.
Oil imports from Saudi Arabia, South Korea’s top crude oil supplier, rose 14.5 percent to 4.13 million tonnes in February, or 1.08 million bpd, from 3.61 million tonnes last year.
In January-February, South Korea’s crude imports increased 6.7 percent to nearly 25.8 million tonnes, or 3.20 million bpd, versus 24.18 million tonnes at the same time last year.
South Korea’s February final crude imports data will be released later this month by state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC).
Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Joseph Radford