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EghtesadOnline: Iran continues its quest for new crude buyers, especially in Europe, but its loyal customer base will continue to hinge on countries like India and China, whose demand for Iranian crude has observed a steady rise this year.

Earlier this month, it agreed to sell 1 million barrels of crude oil to Hungary via Croatia as it seeks to widen its post-sanctions customer base, which now includes cargoes sold to oil major BP, France's Total, Greece's Hellenic Petroleum, Spain's Repsol and Cepsa, Russia's Lukoil, Poland's Grupa Lotos, Portugal's Petrogal and Italy's Saras and Iplom, Platts reported.

Iran said it has held talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it hopes to expand its list of crude oil export destinations. However, its shipments to Asia remain the pillar of its export market.

In September, total estimated export volumes of crude and condensate on very large crude Carriers, Suezmaxes and Aframaxes from Iran's crude and condensate ports jumped to 2.49 million bpd from 2.42 million bpd in August.

This sharp rise was driven by a heavier Iranian Heavy export program, sources said.

Exports to Asia accounted for 79%, or some 1.72 million bpd, of total outflows, marking a fall of around 300,000 bpd from August. Despite the slight fall, Asia remains its premier market with China and India buying almost 50% of Iranian crude last month.

India was the largest buyer of Iranian crude last month, totaling 602,456 bpd, up from 458,880 bpd in August. India's thirst for Iranian crude has intensified this year, with its estimated share of market volume for September rising to 25% from 19% in August.

China's crude oil imports from Iran have increased slightly this year, showing an 8% rise from January-September compared to the same period of last year, according to recent data from the General Administration of Customs. Taiwanese purchases rebounded to 59,701 bpd last month from zero in August. Japan and South Korea, who are major buyers of Iranian condensate, saw their interest fall month-on-month, according to Financial Tribune.

South Korea's crude oil imports from Iran in September more than doubled from August to 12.175 million barrels, or 405,833 bpd, Korea National Oil Corp. data showed.


  Exports to Europe

In Europe, France, Turkey, Italy, Greece and Spain remained the major buyers of Iranian crude in September.

Iran exported 153,572 bpd of crude to France last month, a sharp rise of 57% month-on-month, all of which go to oil major Total on a term-contract basis.

European refiners have rekindled their interest in Iranian crude in the past few months partly due to its competitive pricing compared to other medium-sour crudes from Russia and the Persian Gulf.

Iran has also signaled its plans to increase the oil it is holding in storage. In mid-October, Iran Oil Terminals Company said it was currently holding 11 million barrels of crude at its 28 million-barrel storage facilities.

Buyers Crude Europe Eyes New