SINGAPORE: The volume of Iranian crude stored at sea has fallen by as much as 4 million barrels because of a spike in Asian demand this month, traders and shipping sources said.
Asian refiners have more than offset waning demand from European buyers who have increasingly shunned Iranian crude because of tough international sanctions, which have made financing oil deals with the OPEC member more difficult.
"The Eastern buyers have to be taking more of it. You can’t flood the European market with it because there are so many people who can’t take it," said a trader with a European oil company.
Only the biggest European oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and Eni remain major buyers of the Islamic Republic’s crude oil, industry experts said.
"Right now, we see about 550,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude coming to Europe," a second European trader said. "October is slightly lower than September, which was lower than August."
Iran, OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer, exports roughly 2 million barrels of oil a day, mainly to Asia.
Differentials for Middle East grades, including Iranian crude, have risen this month as Asian refiners stock up for winter and middle distillate cracks strengthen.
"I think with December sour crude premiums picking up … refiners are turning to Iran," a Singapore-based trader for a Western oil company said, adding that two refineries had recently purchased spot Iranian crude.
China, the world’s second biggest energy consumer, imported a record amount of crude in September with 2.4 million tonnes or 19.3 million barrels from Iran. That is the highest monthly volume of Iranian imports in more than a year.
The Islamic Republic was storing as much as 16 million barrels of crude oil on tankers offshore, down from 20 million last month, traders and shipping sources said.
"In October, two (very large crude carriers) VLCCs of Iranian crude have discharged from floating storage for the East. This is more than we usually see," said an industry source with a Western oil company. A VLCC can transport 2 million barrels of crude.
According to Reuters’ calculations, seven VLCCs loaded with either crude or fuel oil have been anchored offshore in the Middle East for more than a month.
An official at private Iranian tanker operator NITC has said it was not storing any Iranian crude or condensate on its vessels.
Iran has no onshore storage for oil produced at the offshore Soroush and Nowruz oilfields, and always keeps between 6 million and 10 million barrels off its Gulf coast.