Turkish state oil refiner Tupras said yesterday it had applied for permission to buy crude oil from the Black Sea market to replace purchases it had planned to make from Iraq.

"To cover the lack of imports from Iraq, we will shift our five million tonnes of new oil purchases to the Black Sea region as our purchases from the Mediterranean and Middle East are continuing under current agreements," Tupras general manager Husamettin Danis said.

Turkey, which imports almost all of its fuel needs, fears oil flows from Iraq, including through its Ceyhan pipeline on the Mediterranean coast, will be disrupted if the United States strikes Iraq.

Danis said Tupras had last purchased crude from the pipeline at the end of February. The pipeline was to account for 2.4 million tonnes of Iraqi crude in 2003, while Tupras planned to purchase the remaining 2.6 million tonnes from a cargo truck trade across Turkey's land border with Iraq.

"Even if the pipeline is not officially closed, it is effectively stopped," Danis said.

London traders said Tupras awarded a tender for one million barrels, or 140,000 tonnes, of sour crude yesterday but Tupras did not release the results. Turkey had previously taken Russian Urals but purchases had dropped off since last year when it resumed taking Iraqi crude.

"There are various crudes like Siberian Light, (Kazakh) Kumkol, Urals. We will meet with Russia-based firms after the government approves our application and hold the tenders," Danis said.

In 2003, Turkey plans to buy four million tonnes of crude from Libya, 3.5 million tonnes from Saudia Arabia, nearly five million tonnes from Iran and 2.4 million tones from Russia's Tatarstan region.