Japan’s April Crude Imports From Iran Drop on Insurance Squeeze

Japan’s crude imports from Iran slumped 96 percent in April from a year ago, as sanctions aimed at halting the Middle Eastern country’s atomic program limited insurance for transportation of the cargoes.

Oil purchases from Iran for the month dropped to 36,005 kiloliters, or about 7,550 barrels a day, compared with 902,115 kiloliters in April 2012, according to data today from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Imports fell 97 percent from 1.39 million kiloliters in March, the data showed.

Japan’s total crude purchases shrank 6.2 percent in April to 17.59 million kiloliters, the trade ministry said. Oil-product imports declined 17 percent to 2.54 million kiloliters, while oil-product exports rose 16 percent to 2.42 million kiloliters.

The Japanese government began providing sovereign insurance to tanker operators that import Iranian oil after European Union sanctions were introduced last year as an attempt to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program. The sanctions barred coverage for 95 percent of the global fleet because London-based underwriters arrange most of the insurance.

Japan’s oil buyers reduced their purchases in April to ration out the government coverage and avoid using it up early in the year, according to Akitsugu Takahashi, the executive director for retail fuel sales at JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp., Japan’s biggest refiner.

“There’s a limit to how much insurance is available and that limit can not be exceeded,” Takahashi, who did not specify the limit, told reporters today in Tokyo.

U.S. and EU officials say Iran’s nuclear development is aimed at producing atomic weapons, while the government in Tehran says the project is for civilian purposes.

Statistics based on customs-clearance data by the Ministry of Finance yesterday showed a 6.1 percent decline in crude imports from Iran. Today’s trade ministry figures are based on data collected from buyers via questionnaire and include fuel in so-called bonded storage tanks that haven’t yet passed through customs.

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