October 18, 2018 / 10:08 AM / a month ago

With few buyers, Iranian oil armada heads to China ahead of U.S. sanctions

SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) - An unprecedented volume of Iranian crude oil is set to arrive at China’s northeast Dalian port this month and in early November before U.S. sanctions on Iran take effect, according to an Iranian shipping source and data on Refinitiv Eikon.

A gas flare on an oil production platform is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

A source from the National Iranian Tanker Company said the company is shipping more than 20 million barrels of oil to Dalian.

“As our leaders have said it will be impossible to stop Iran from selling its oil. We have various ways of selling our oil and when the tankers reach Dalian, we will decide whether to sell it to other buyers or to China,” the source said, without elaborating further.

So far, a total of 22 million barrels of Iranian crude oil loaded on supertankers owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) are expected to arrive at Dalian in October and November, the data showed. Dalian typically receives between 1 million and 3 million barrels of Iranian oil each month, according to the data that dates back to January 2015.

Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is finding fewer takers for its crude ahead of U.S. sanctions on its oil exports that will take effect on Nov. 4.

The Islamic country previously stored oil at Dalian during the last round of sanctions in 2014 that was later sold to buyers in South Korea and India. Some of the biggest refineries and commercial oil storage facilities in China are located in Dalian.

One of 11 Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) - Dune - discharged oil into a bonded storage tank at the Xingang section of the Dalian port on Oct. 8, Reuters reported last week, while a second VLCC Dino I switched off its transponder on Oct. 13 near the port.

Dino I reappeared earlier this week near Taiwan and has discharged its cargo onboard.

The Xingang area is home to several tank farms including commercial and strategic reserves. China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and Dalian Port PDA Co Ltd both operate commercial storage in the area, according to information on the companies’ websites.

CNPC is not expecting any Iranian oil to arrive at Dalian, a source familiar with the matter said, adding that buyers are unlikely to lift Iranian oil from bonded tanks in Dalian due to the U.S. sanctions.

Keeping oil in bonded storage gives the cargo’s owner the option of selling the oil into China or to other buyers in the region.

NITC tankers have now switched off their tracking devices when loading or discharging oil to evade U.S. authorities as the United States will re-impose sanctions on Iran in early November, according to Refinitiv Eikon shipping data.

Three of the tankers, set to arrive in China in November, are heading to Changxing Island, the data showed.

Reuters contacted NITC for comment but officials were not immediately available as it is a weekend in Iran. An official with the media department at the Dalian port could not immediately comment.

Reporting by Florence Tan in SINGAPORE, Meng Meng and Chen Aizhu in BEIJING; Editing by Manolo Serapio Jr. and David Evans

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