A Showa Shell spokesman declined to comment when asked whether the company had renewed its term contract, which expired at the end of March.
Under the terms of the new contract, which is effective from April with volumes to be delivered in May, Showa Shell's loadings of Iranian oil are expected to fall below March volumes, sources familiar with the matter told Platts Tuesday.
They said Showa Shell's renewed contract came as time was running out for the company to make its loadings in April after months of delays in renewing its term contract.
Showa Shell is Japan's biggest buyer of Iranian crude, importing 100,000 b/d of the crude under its previous contracts that expired at the end of March, sources said. Showa Shell is owned by Shell (35.04%), Saudi Aramco (14.96%) and public investors (50%).
Because a VLCC takes 18-20 days to make a voyage from Iranian loading terminals to Japan, any crude loaded in April will not reach Japan till May.
Other Japanese buyers of Iranian crude are expected to conclude soon their import contracts starting in April, the sources said.
The renewal of Showa Shell's contract came as Japanese refiners cleared immediate shipping insurance concerns for cargo and hull damage, which have been capped at Yen 30 billion ($372 million) because of the complex EU rules regarding insurance cover by EU-based Protection and Indemnity Clubs.
Japan is so far the only Asian country to have been granted a waiver by the US to continue importing reduced volumes of Iranian crude oil. Ten European countries have already been granted exemptions by Washington, which wants to make it harder for Iran to place barrels in Asia that it would otherwise sell into the European market.
Another source with a shipowner said conclusion of the Showa Shell contract was a significant development if Showa Shell has signed the new contract to buy Iranian crude.
The EU agreed in January to ban imports of Iranian crude beginning July 1. The sanctions not only forbid the import and transport of Iranian oil, but also ban insurance cover for vessels carrying Iranian cargoes. And because of pooling arrangements for reinsurance between Protection and Indemnity clubs around the world, the sanctions will have an impact on non-EU shipping.
The sanctions, modified on March 23, allow third party and environmental liability insurance for tankers carrying oil from Iran until June 30. Other forms of insurance are also exempt if they relate to contracts signed before March 24, when the new version of the sanctions came into force. This means new contracts for insurance covering damage to a ship's hull or its cargo may not be allowed after March 24 under the EU's rules.
Iran has been exporting about 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day (bpd), with 65 per cent going to Asia and 30 per cent to Europe. It is the second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Oil prices have shot up in recent months in the wake of Iran's decision to halt its crude exports to certain European countries in response to the European Union (EU) oil embargo on Tehran.
Last Tuesday, Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi confirmed that the country has halted oil supplies to Greece.
"Right now, Iran's oil is not exported to Greece," he said.
Iran had also earlier cut oil exports to France and Britain.
Iran's Oil Ministry announced on February 19 that it had cut oil sales to British and French firms. Tehran also announced it may also halt oil exports to more European countries.