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TOKYO, July 31 (Reuters) - Japanese refiner Showa Shell Sekiyu KK has been importing less Iranian crude oil than last year's average of 100,000 barrels per day (bpd), in line with U.S. sanctions against the Islamic nation, a company official said on Tuesday.
Showa Shell, formerly the country's top buyer of Iranian crude, was acknowledging for the first time that it is continuing to import Iranian crude. Sources have said the company's previous annual deal expired in March.
"The current levels are lower than what we originally had ... of 100,000 bpd," Tsutomu Yoshioka, general manager of Showa Shell's finance and control division, told a news conference on the company's half-year earnings.
"It is for certain the levels are lower than a year earlier," he added but declined to comment further because he was not directly in charge of crude imports.
Showa Shell, which is 35 percent owned by Royal Dutch Shell and 15 percent owned by Saudi Aramco, is likely to have cut its contracted volumes to around 60,000 to 70,000 bpd, an industry source told Reuters this month, but the company had declined to comment at the time.
Tuesday's official data showed Japan imported 207,812 bpd from Iran in June, up 6.8 percent from a year earlier as refiners moved forward loading schedules before a halt in inflows this month due to EU sanctions.
Asked if Showa Shell would keep cutting importing volumes from Iran, Yoshioka said this would not be an issue for the company alone to decide, but gave no further details.
Japan's fifth largest refiner, Showa Shell vowed on March 21, a day after the United States exempted Japan from financial sanctions, to respect the agreement between the two countries and cut imports from Iran in line with it.
Japan's top refiner, JX Nippon Oil & Energy, which has a contracted volume with Iran of 83,000 bpd, has emerged as the country's biggest buyer of Iranian crude, taking the top spot from Showa Shell, sources have said.