TOKYO: Imports of Iranian crude oil by major buyers in Asia hit a five-year low in October, as China, Japan and South Korea sharply cut purchases ahead of US

sanctions on Tehran that took effect in early November, government and ship-tracking data showed.

China, India, Japan and South Korea last month imported about 762,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran, according to the data, down 56.4 per cent from a year earlier.

This marks the lowest volume of shipments since October 2013, when an earlier round of tough US and E.U. sanctions had slashed exports from the Opec member starting from early 2012.

In reimposing sanctions on Nov. 5 on Iran’s energy and shipping industries, however, Washington also granted exemptions to China, Japan, South Korea and five other countries, allowing them to continue buying some Iranian oil for at least another 180 days.

India’s imports of Iranian oil dropped the least, falling just 0.2 per cent from the same month last year to 466,400 bpd.

Most India refiners boosted purchases from Iran ahead of the US sanctions as Iran was offering almost free shipping and/sextended credit periods, according to oil analysts.

South Korean oil imports from Iran, though, fell to zero for a second straight month in October.

Japan’s oil imports from Iran plunged by 71 per cent to a six-month low of 48,033 bpd last month, trade ministry data showed on Friday.

Japan’s imports for November are set to fall to zero for the first time since July 2012, when the nation’s buyers reined in its appetite to keep from falling afoul of European Union sanctions targeting insurance.

Japan has not imported any crude after the last cargo was shipped in early October, according to Refinitiv data.

South Korea is likely to hold its oil imports from Iran at zero until the end of the year and resume shipments from January, industry sources said in mid-November.

Japan’s JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy is likely to load Iran crude around the end of December, two industry sources said. A company spokesman said, however, that the company is considering the purchase but nothing has been decided yet.

China’s imports of Iranian crude tumbled 64 per cent in October to 247,200 bpd.