March 14, 2020 / 11:40 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-S.Korea's Feb U.S. crude imports down 2.4%; total crude imports down 11.6%

* Feb U.S. crude imports at 1.59 mln T, down 2.4% y/y

* Total Feb crude imports fall 11.6% y/y to 11.61 mln T

* Jan-Feb crude imports down 6.2% to 24.03 mln T y/y (Recasts, adds details)

By Jane Chung

SEOUL, March 15 (Reuters) - South Korea’s U.S. crude oil imports in February fell 2.4% from a year earlier and its total February crude imports dropped 11.6% year-on-year as the spreading of the coronavirus in South Korea has dented fuel demand, customs data showed on Sunday.

U.S. crude imports were 1.59 million tonnes in February, or 402,434 barrels per day (bpd), compared with 1.63 million tonnes a year earlier, according to the customs data. The United States ranked as South Korea’s No.3 crude supplier after Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

South Korea’s imports of U.S. crude have increased amid the end of U.S. sanction waivers in May 2019, which stopped South Korea purchasing Iranian crude oil, mainly condensate, or an ultra-light form of crude oil.

The country’s Iranian oil shipments have remained zero for a tenth consecutive month.

In total, South Korea’s February crude oil imports dropped 11.6% year-on-year to 11.61 million tonnes, or 2.94 million bpd, according to the data.

The drop in crude oil imports comes as South Korea is coping with the region’s biggest coronavirus outbreak outside of China with more than 8,000 cases.

SK Energy, South Korea’s top refiner, said in early March that it would lower its crude distillation units’ (CDU) operations by 10-15% in March as exports and domestic demand have been hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

Crude oil shipments from Saudi Arabia, South Korea’s top crude oil supplier, were 3.19 million tonnes in February, or 806,220 bpd, down 19.9% from 3.98 million tonnes a year earlier.

In the first two months of the year, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer shipped in 24.03 million tonnes of crude oil, or 2.92 million bpd, down 6.2% from 25.60 million tonnes during the same period a year earlier.

The country’s final crude oil imports data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) is due later this month. (Reporting By Jane Chung; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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