Japan Nov customs-cleared Iran crude imports fall 18.8 pct

TOKYO, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Japan's customs-cleared crude oil

imports from Iran fell 18.8 percent in November from a year

earlier, data from the Ministry of Finance showed on Thursday,

as Western sanctions squeezed shipments from the Middle Eastern

country.

Japan, the world's third-biggest user of oil, imported

1,246,176 kilolitres (261,273 barrels per day) of Iranian

crude last month, compared with 1,533,956 kl (321,609 bpd) a

year ago, according to customs-cleared data from the ministry.

That marked the highest volumes since 1,751,737 kl (355,422

bpd) in March 2012, the month before Japan started sharply

cutting imports from the Islamic republic due to Western

sanctions.

Japan's trade ministry is due to release separate crude

import data on Friday, 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out of date.

The United States in September renewed waivers on Iranian

sanctions for Japan and 10 European countries because they cut

their purchases of the OPEC nation's crude oil.

Tough sanctions from Washington and Europe to force Iran to

curb its nuclear programme have already cut Iran's oil exports

by more than half this year, costing it more than $5 billion a

month. Tehran says the programme is for civilian purposes.

Making matters worse for Iran is a little-noticed provision

in U.S. sanctions, which goes into effect on Feb. 6, stating

that funds being used to pay for oil must remain in a bank

account in the purchasing country and can be used only for

non-sanctioned, bilateral trade between that country and Iran.

For the first 11 months of 2012, Japan imported 10,240,797

kl (192,276 bpd) of Iranian crude, down 38.7 percent from

16,664,267 kl (313,817 bpd) in the same period a year ago,

according to Reuters calculations based on the finance

ministry's customs-cleared data.

Japan's oil imports from Iran may be about 15 percent lower

next year, capped roughly at 160,000 bpd and may possibly be cut

further, Yasushi Kimura, the president of Petroleum Association

of Japan, who also serves as the chairman of JX Nippon Oil &

Energy Corp, told reporters last week.

Japan's imports of Iranian crude oil fell to zero in July

for the first time since 1981, according to Trade Ministry data,

as the EU sanctions barred insurance companies providing cover

on tankers carrying oil from Iran.

(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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