Johannesburg - South Africa imported no oil from Iran in January, according to government trade and customs data, suggesting Pretoria has heeded a call from the United States to halt oil shipments from Tehran as part of Western sanctions.
Trade figures showed marked increases in January imports from Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, indicating they have replaced Iran, usually South Africa’s biggest supplier of crude accounting for a quarter of its oil imports.
Pretoria has come under Western pressure to cut Iranian crude imports as part of sanctions designed to halt Tehran’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, although it has been unclear how the diplomatically non-aligned nation would respond.
US Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman visited South Africa on January 17 to push home the message from Washington.
Figures on the department of trade and industry (DTI) website showed South Africa imported just R6.2m of goods from Iran in January, compared with a monthly average of more than R2.2bn during last year.
The January 2012 figure is less than 1% of that for January 2011. Separately, customs figures from the South African Revenue Service showed zero oil imports from the Islamic republic for the first month of this year.
Qatari imports soared to R1.76bn in January, from a monthly average of R0.3bn throughout 2011, while Saudi imports rose to R3bn from a monthly average of R2.7bn last year.
Imports from Kuwait jumped to R255m - nearly 20% more than imports from Kuwait for the whole of the last year.
Customs and trade data should help clear confusion after South African officials gave conflicting views over Iranian oil imports in the past weeks.
Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said last week it would take until May to come up with a plan to replace Iranian supplies.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim told a news conference that almost all Iranian oil imports had been suspended, although officials later retracted his comments.
South Africa’s biggest buyer of Iranian crude is Engen, majority owned by Malaysian national oil company Petronas. Engen has not commented, but a Petronas source told Reuters last week Engen had stopped buying Iranian oil from March.
Engen could not be reached on Tuesday and the foreign and energy ministries declined to comment on the data.
Petrochemicals group Sasol [JSE:SOL]
, which took 12 000 barrels of Iranian oil a day, confirmed it has already found new suppliers but did not name them.
Some South African refineries are designed to treat Iranian-type crude only, and experts have said they would be hard-pressed to replace those supplies with other products.