SEOUL, Sept 26 (Reuters) - South Korea’s biggest oil refiner SK Energy loaded a second cargo of crude in Iran last week, a government source said on Wednesday, as Seoul resumes Iranian oil shipments after a near two-month gap caused by a European Union ban on insurance cover.
The cargo of two million barrels is under Iranian insurance cover to avoid the sanctions, said the source. A spokesman for SK Energy’s parent firm confirmed last week that another Iranian cargo of the same volume was already on its way to South Korea.
“SK Energy lifted its second cargo in Iran last week,” said the source at South Korea’s economy ministry, adding that SK Energy’s first cargo had not arrived yet in Korea.
SK Energy and its parent SK Innovation declined to comment.
Another refiner, Hyundai Oilbank, will lift two million barrels in Iran by the end of the month, the government source said.
South Korean refiners plan to resume from September monthly imports of up to 6 million barrels, or 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) of full contracted volumes, of Iranian crude, according to government sources.
The resumption is unlikely to hinder South Korea’s bid to extend a U.S. sanction waiver in December as imports this year are still down sharply from a year ago.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude importer, became the first major Asian consumer of Iranian crude to announce it was halting imports in June after the government said shipments would be suspended from July 1 because of the EU insurance ban.
Seoul, however, brought in an unexpected 137,400 bpd of crude from Iran in July because of shipment delays to June cargoes. It imported no crude from Iran in August, data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp showed this week.
South Korea’s imports from Iran during the first eight months of this year were 38.77 million barrels, or about 159,000 bpd, down nearly a third from a year ago, KNOC said.
Tehran offered to provide up to $1 billion of insurance cover to Iranian vessels shipping oil to South Korea as Iran seeks to keep its crude flowing to its top four customers: South Korea, China, India and Japan.
The four countries, which buy more than half of Iran’s oil exports, have slashed purchases this year under pressure from EU and U.S. sanctions aimed at squeezing Tehran’s oil income to curb its nuclear programme.
The West suspects Iran wants to develop weapons. Tehran says its programme is strictly for developing nuclear power.
Of South Korea’s four refiners, only SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank import Iranian crude.
SK Energy’s term contracts with Iran this year provide for imports of two Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) of crude per month, or 4 million barrels, and Hyundai Oilbank imports one VLCC per month, or 2 million barrels, according to the economy ministry source. (Editing by Ed Davies)