Iran delivers first Chinese oil cargo since May: Report

Data from oil tankers show that an Iranian oil carrier has berthed at a Chinese port to be the first confirmed delivery of Iranian crude purchase after 2 May when the US didn’t extend oil sanctions waivers for clients of Iranian energy.

26 June 2019
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Data from oil tankers show that an Iranian oil carrier has berthed at a Chinese port to be the first confirmed delivery of Iranian crude purchase after 2 May when the US didn’t extend oil sanctions waivers for clients of Iranian energy.

Oil takners pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. (Photo: Reuters, Hamad Mohammed)

A tanker owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) has delivered oil to the Jinxi Refining and Chemical Complex in China, marking the first confirmed delivery of Iranian crude purchased after the Trump administration’s revocation of waivers permitting the sale of Iranian oil on May 2, Bourse and Bazaar reports. 

Analysis provided by TankerTrackers.com shows that the medium-sized Suezmax vessel, named SALINA, departed from Iran’s Kharg Island terminal on May 24. SALINA loaded approximately one million barrels of Iranian oil before departing on May 28.

A few weeks later, on June 20, the vessel arrived at the Jinxi Refinery, located near the Port of Jinzhou, near Beijing. Notably, Jinxi is owned and operated by PetroChina, which is affiliated to China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), a long-time buyer of Iranian oil and the parent company of Bank of Kunlun, the financial institution that has been at the heart of China-Iran trade for the last decade.

Iran has been delivering significant volumes of crude oil into bonded storage in China over the last year, selling that oil to China in subsequent months. CNPC’s nearby storage facility—part of China’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve—can hold 19 million barrels. But in the absence of waivers, the storage of Iranian oil would still contravene US sanctions, making it likely that the delivered oil was taken by CNPC as a purchase.

SALINA’s journey serves to confirm earlier reports that China had resumed purchasing Iranian petroleum products, including crude oil and liquid petroleum gas, despite the fact that such purchases would run afoul of US sanctions. Several other tankers are expected to arrive in China in the coming weeks.

The central role of state-owned CNPC, China’s second largest energy conglomerate, suggests that China has resumed purchases of Iranian oil as a matter of government policy. During a visit to Beijing in May, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif was reassured by his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, that China would continue to support Iran, so long as Iran remained in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. However, Chinese and Iranian officials continue to deny that any purchases have been made since May, preferring to maintain ambiguity over the exports.

The Chinese General Administration of Customs declared USD 585 million in imports of Iranian petroleum products in May, down sharply from USD 1.6 billion in April. But imports are expected to rebound in June, based on the significant number of tankers that remain en route to Chinese ports.

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