South Korea’s purchases of Iranian crude oil rose to record high in March and nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2017 from the year before, in a fresh testimony to Iran’s successful inroads into global markets.
According to customs data released in Seoul on Saturday, Iran moved into place as the second biggest oil exporter to South Korea in the first quarter of 2017, from the fifth place a year before.
South Korea took in 534,368 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude in March, data from Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) showed. That was up 118.8% from a year ago, and 38.3% in February.
In the first three months of 2017, South Korea imported 463,234 bpd of Iranian crude, up 92.4 percent imported during the same period a year ago.
Imports from Iran’s closest rival Saudi Arabia in March were down 2.6% from 3.61 million a month ago, South Korea’s customs data showed.
South Korea’s crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia also fell 10% to 10.44 million tonnes in the first quarter of this year, or 850,614 bpd, from 11.61 million tonnes in the previous quarter, but that was 5.7% higher on year, Reuters reported.
Other Asian customers have also ramped up crude oil purchases from Iran since the lifting of sanctions early last year.
India's oil imports from Iran hit a record high above half-a-million barrels per day in 2016/17, according to data compiled by Reuters last week.
India is currently Iran's second biggest oil client after China but there is still room for the two sides to return to levels before the sanctions when Tehran was New Delhi's second oil supplier.
India lifted about 541,000 bpd of Iranian oil in the fiscal year to March, a growth of about 115% over the previous year.
Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum said early this month that the country’s total exports of crude oil and condensate had surpassed 3 million barrels per day, a level not seen for at least the past six years.
Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh said, “The pace of growth in Iran’s crude oil production and exports has amazed international observers who did not think Iran could raise its production by 1 million barrels per day within three to four months after the removal of sanctions.”
According to the ministry, almost a third of Iran’s oil exports or over 700,000 bpd are currently destined for Europe. The country exported around 600,000 bpd of oil to Europe during pre-sanctions years.
Iran sells the bulk of its condensate to South Korea. In mid-July, the foreign media reported a major rise of 115% in South Korea’s combined imports of crude oil and condensate from Iran.
A top oil official said last December that Iran had started exports of condensate to Europe by sending a maiden cargo of one million barrels to certain EU clients.