NEW DELHI India's oil imports from Iran fell more than a quarter in January from the previous month, although incoming shipments are expected to pick up in February as post-sanctions crude starts arriving, preliminary tanker data obtained by Reuters shows.
Indian buyers of Iranian oil had been holding their purchases in check during the final months of international sanctions, anticipating a big marketing push by Tehran.
Now, with January's removal of the international curbs on Tehran's oil, banking, insurance and shipping sectors, Indian refiners are talking to the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) about raising their crude imports.
Two of the refiners, Essar Oil and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd, have already booked three cargoes for arrival in February that would bring India's Iran purchases for the first-half of the month to nearly 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), the tanker data shows.
"India has asked for 6 million barrels more than the nominations they had made earlier, which means about 230,000-250,000 bpd more for February," an NIOC source told Reuters last month, although without saying what the initial nominations had been for the month.
In January, India received 170,700 bpd of oil loaded from Iran mostly while sanctions were still in place, a decline of 27 percent from December and down 38 percent from a year ago, the preliminary tank arrival data obtained by Reuters showed.
In the first ten months of the fiscal year that began on April 1, 2015, India's imports from Iran fell 9.5 percent to 228,600 bpd from the same period of the previous year.
In January, state refiner MRPL was India's biggest oil client of Iran, shipping in 103,400 bpd, followed by Essar Oil, which received about 67,200 bpd.
Post-sanctions Iran wants to raise its oil output by 500,000 bpd as quickly as possible to meet demand from new and existing customers, with about 200,000 bpd of that to go to Europe.
An Iranian source has said Tehran is targeting India, Asia's fastest-growing oil market, as the main destination for its resurgent oil exports, which has been backed up by shipping schedules.
The Islamic republic's overall exports will total around 1.44 million bpd in February and about 1.5 million bpd in January, according to data on Iran's preliminary tanker loading schedules, which would roughly reflect arrivals two to four weeks later, depending on the destinations.
That data showed crude oil bound for India loading out of Iran at 183,000 bpd in January and 303,000 bpd in February.
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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