TOKYO, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Japan's customs-cleared crude oil
imports from Iran halved in January from a year earlier to the
lowest in three months, Ministry of Finance data showed on
Wednesday, as Western sanctions hampered shipments from the
Middle East nation.
Japan, the world's third-biggest user of oil, imported
857,700 kilolitres (174,025 barrels per day) of Iranian crude
last month, down 49 percent from 1,698,280 kl in January, 2012,
according to the finance ministry's customs-cleared trade data.
It was the lowest monthly volume since October, when Japan
imported 469,024 kl from Iran.
Japan's trade ministry is due to release separate crude
import data on Thursday, which is more closely followed by the
oil industry as it tracks the actual import status of tankers.
Crude importers can seek customs clearance within three
months of a cargo's arrival or apply to have the load
categorized as "import for storage" and held for up to two years
before being cleared, meaning the finance ministry data can be
out of date.
In 2012, Japan slashed Iranian crude imports by 40 percent
to 189,076 bpd, even though total oil imports rose 2.7 percent.
The United States renewed waivers on sanctions for Japan and
10 European countries in September, and Japan's waiver is up for
renewal next month.
Tough sanctions from Washington and Europe to force Iran to
curb its nuclear programme have cut Iran's oil exports by more
than half last year, costing it more than $5 billion a month.
Tehran says the programme is for civilian purposes.
(Reporting by Risa Maeda)