Iranian oil exports dropped to a new low in September ahead of looming US sanctions, but some shipments not visible through vessel-tracking data are thought to be taking place. VLCCs from Iranian ports sank by 11.5% to 1.7 million b/d in September from 1.92 million b/d in August, according to data from S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow. Around 1.5 million b/d of this total consists of crude while the remaining were all condensate volumes. These are the lowest exports by Iran in at least two-and-a-half-years before the West lifted sanctions in January 2016 and show that its key customers are already making significant cuts to their Iranian imports before US secondary sanctions kick in on November 5.
While these numbers are compiled from publicly visible shipments that can be observed through vessel tracking, a number of clandestine deliveries may also still be happening, according to shipping and trading sources. There is growing evidence of attempts by Iran to continue shipments to its key buyers while minimizing public visibility. Representatives at state-owned National Iranian Tanker Company were unavailable for comment. Steep declines in Iranian exports are expected over the rest of this year as the second round of US sanctions, which target the oil sector, are implemented from November 5.
China, continued to remain the biggest buyer of Iranian crude despite the US sanctions, but flows fell 12.3% to 442,900 b/d last month. Among Asian buyers, the biggest decline was observed in Japan, where imports from Iran dropped to 41,900 b/d from 147,581 b/d the previous month. Shipments to India declined by 16.7% to 357,200 b/d as key Indian refiners are starting to reduce their dependence on Iran’s oil. Because of the lack of Automatic Identification System, or AIS, data on a number of tankers leaving Iranian oil terminals last month, almost 207,000 b/d is said to be on its way to unknown destinations.