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Two supertankers left Iran’s oil terminal Kharg Island en route to China late on Wednesday—the first Iranian oil shipment to its single biggest oil customer in 18 days, which was the longest gap between crude-laden tankers departing for China in three years, according to tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.
Bloomberg started compiling ship tracking data in July 2015, and the period between August 25 and September 12 this year was the longest period without tankers leaving Iran and heading to China since tracking began.
Although the shipment hiatus is unlikely to signal that China has been purposefully scaling back purchases to comply with U.S. pressure to have Iranian oil sales at zero, it could mean that Chinese refiners were looking for better terms for Iranian oil purchases, according to Bloomberg.
China has said that it would not stop buying Iranian oil, but Beijing is also said to have agreed not to increase its oil purchases from Iran.
Between January and August, Iran was sending on average 660,000 bpd of oil to its biggest oil customer. If that rate of exports to China were to be maintained, Iran should have already sent five or six very large crude carriers (VLCCs) over the past 18 days. Instead, it didn’t send any, Bloomberg data shows.
Total Iranian oil shipments for September—although we’re just one third into the month and more tankers could leave later in September—slumped to 1.3 million bpd through September 13, compared to just above 2 million bpd in August, when Iranian exports started to fall noticeably, according to Bloomberg’s data.
Major Japanese refiners were said last week to have officially notified Iran that they would halt all imports of Iranian oil for October while they wait for the Japan-U.S. talks on Iranian oil imports to make a permanent decision on how to proceed in November.
U.S. ally South Korea did not import any Iranian oil in August, compared to 194,000 bpd imports from Iran in July, according to tanker-tracking and shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. South Korea says that it continues talks with the United States to see if it can obtain waiver.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.