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Asia's crude oil imports from Iran rise to 8-month high in March - data

Florence Tan

* March imports at 1.57 mln bpd, up 36 pct from Feb - data

* Top Asia buyers rushed for more cargoes amid sanctions waivers

* Asia's Iran oil imports for 2015-2019 http://tmsnrt.rs/2cNidjY

SINGAPORE, April 30 (Reuters) - Asia's crude oil imports from Iran rose to the highest in eight months in March as buyers rushed for more cargoes to take advantage of waivers to the sanctions the United States imposed, data from government and trade sources showed on Thursday. Asia's top oil importers China, India, Japan and South Korea imported a total 1.57 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude from Iran in March, up 36 percent from the previous month to the highest since July, the data showed. The total import volume for first quarter is 31 percent lower than the same period a year ago, according to the data. Iranian oil exports will reach Japan, South Korea, India and China in April but only China has Iranian oil arriving in early May, data on Refinitiv Eikon showed. The United States granted eight buyers of Iranian crude waivers to the crude import sanctions that went into full effect in November. However, last week Washington it would revoke the waivers as of May 1. U.S. officials said there are sufficient supplies to replace Iran's oil with producers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ready to meet additional demand.

Asian refiners are expected to reach out to producers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for more supplies while South Korea is set to once again scan the world for alternative, but more expensive, condensate supplies and snap up heavy naphtha oil products. Consultancy FGE said Iran will still get some 200,000-300,000 bpd of oil smuggled out on land via Iraq, Pakistan and perhaps Turkey while Chinese trading company Zhuhai Zhenrong may continue to lift Iranian oil. "The new tougher stance from the U.S. implies that exports will likely be some 300,000-400,000 bpd lower than we previously expected," FGE said, adding that the loss of these exports makes the supply and demand balance for oil look more bullish. The tables below outline Iran crude imports in bpd by Asia's biggest buyers for December and the year to date:

Nation March 19 March 18 yr/yr pctChina 541,134 726,050 -25.5India 405,000 430,200 -5.9Japan 292,648 196,663 48.8Korea 334,387 374,097 -10.6Total 1,573,169 1,727,010 -8.9Nation Jan-March 2019 Jan-March 2018 yr/yr pctChina 474,836 -27.6

655,561

India 313,400 -40.0

522,700

Japan 142,805 -26.3

193,796

Korea 230,711 -27.1

316,633

Total 1,161,752 1,688,690 -31.2

Sources: METI, China Customs, KNOC, trade, Refinitiv Eikon, Reuters

(Reporting by Florence Tan; editing by Christian Schmollinger)