UPDATE 1-Japan's Iran May crude imports surge to counter April halt
* Iran imports rise 86 percent in May to 238,533 bpd
* Imports jump more than 30-fold from April
* Iran imports fall 20 pct in January-May yr/yr
(Adds details on Asia and Japan imports, quote on industry expectations; recasts)
TOKYO, June 28 (Reuters) - Japan's oil imports from Iran in May jumped 86 percent from a year earlier, recovering from a plunge the previous month when there was a near halt amid uncertainty about continued sovereign guarantees on shipping insurance.
Despite the rise in May, Japan's imports for the first five months of year are down by 20 percent from a year ago.
Imports by Japan, Iran's No. 3 crude buyer, are still expected to decline this year after dropping 39.5 percent last year as the United States and the European Union ratchet up sanctions targeting Iran's disputed nuclear programme.
Importers of Iranian oil must make continuous cuts in their shipments to win waivers to the sanctions every six months, and Japan's waiver is next up for renewal in September.
The bulk of Iran's oil exports go to its top four buyers - China, India, Japan and South Korea - who have together raised their purchases in May to 1.13 million barrels per day (bpd), up 11 percent from a year ago, according to Reuters calculations from earlier data and Japan's oil import figures on Friday.
That reflects higher Iran oil shipments than the 700,000 bpd for May that sources and trade data had indicated earlier, but the measures aimed at cutting Tehran's oil funds have still cost it billions of dollars in lost revenue.
Washington is now seeking to cut Iran's exports further via tighter sanctions.
Japan's crude imports from Iran in May were 238,533 barrels per day, up more than 30-fold than in April, data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) showed on Friday.
Industry sources had expected a jump in Iranian imports after a one-off plunge in April to 7,549 bpd.
"We expected a rebound in imports to slightly more than 200,000 bpd in May from April," said an industry source, who declined to be named.
Japan's Iran imports hit a nine-month low in April as refiners cut purchases because of uncertainty over whether sovereign insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil would be extended beyond March 31, the end of Japan's fiscal year.
For the first five months of 2013, Japan imported 197,351 bpd of Iranian crude, down 19.8 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Reuters calculations.
Top Iran oil customer China also raised its imports in May, importing 555,557 bpd, up 6.4 percent from a year ago and nearly 50 percent from April.
India's oil imports from Iran fell 12.2 percent in May from a year ago, while South Korea's Iranian oil imports fell 8.1 percent.
The U.S. State Department earlier this month renewed six-month waivers on Iran sanctions for China, India and seven other economies in exchange for their agreeing to reduce purchases of oil from Iran.
Japan's Ministry of Finance on Thursday issued customs-cleared imports data from Iran, but the oil industry considers METI data as a benchmark because it tracks the arrival status of oil tankers.
The Ministry of Finance data showed that customs-cleared crude imports from Iran rose 109 percent last month from a year ago to 1.09 million kl (221,500 bpd).
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Additional reporting by Manash Goswami; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Tom Hogue)