UPDATE 1-Japan July crude oil import volumes drop 11.2 pct
* Crude imports post sharpest decline since April
* LNG imports up 14.3 pct yr/yr at 6.41 mln tonnes, fourth-highest ever
* Thermal coal imports down 7.4 pct as some plants damaged (Adds detail)
TOKYO, Aug 18 (Reuters) - The volume of Japan's customs-cleared crude oil imports fell 11.2 percent in July from a year earlier in its sharpest decline since April, when some refineries halted imports due to damage from a massive earthquake, Ministry of Finance data showed on Thursday.
The fall marked the first decline in three months, amid signs of recovery after the massive quake and tsunami on March 11 devastated the country's northeast coast, damaging infrastructure, disrupting supply chains and knocking the economy into recession.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports in July hit their fourth-highest level and marked a record high for the summer season, as utilities ramped up gas-fired power generation to offset a near-record low in nuclear plant utilisation after the atomic disaster in Fukushima.
Japan, the world's third-biggest oil consumer, imported 16.031 million kilolitres (3.25 million barrels per day) of crude oil last month, the preliminary data showed.
In June, Japan's crude oil imports were 15.385 million kl, up 1.9 percent on the year, according to the data.
The outlook for imports remains unclear for the coming months as there are positive factors, such as reconstruction and rising demand for direct-burn crude for power generation, as well as negative factors, such as an ongoing refinery shutdown at Sendai refinery, ministry officials said.
Japan's imports of LNG totalled 6.407 million tonnes last month, up 14.3 percent from a year earlier. That marked the highest volume since March.
Imports of thermal coal for power generation fell 7.4 percent in July to 8.663 million tonnes, as some coal-fired power plants along the northeast coast have also been shut down, the data showed.
The Japan crude cocktail (JCC) price, or the average price for customs-cleared crude oil imports, which is used as the benchmark for LNG prices for Japanese buyers, stood at $113.47 a barrel in July. That compared with $76.35 in July 2010 and $114.68 in June.
In yen terms, the JCC price last month was 57,380 yen per kilolitre. That compared with 42,783 yen a year earlier and 58,383 yen in June. (Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Joseph Radford)
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