UPDATE 1-India's MRPL sees Iran oil imports down 39 pct y/y

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 31, 2013 14:20 hrs

* Imports from Iran to miss target for year to March 31

* Insurance ban squeezes supply of aframax vessels MRPL needs

* Azerbaijan, Saudi supplies replace Iran crude (Adds details, background)

By Nidhi Verma

NEW DELHI, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Iran's biggest oil buyer in India, refiner MRPL, said on Thursday it expected to import 39 percent less in the year to March 31 as international sanctions had hurt the availability of vessels to carry Iranian crude.

"This fiscal year it will be about 3.8 million tonnes from Iran," MRPL Managing Director P.P. Upadhya told reporters.

That amount, some 76,000 barrels per day (bpd), was short of a target of 100,000 bpd, which Upadhya said was due largely to shipping constraints.

It was also down from imports of 124,000 bpd in 2011/12, said Vishnu Agrawal, MRPL's director of finance.

Sanctions on Tehran were prompted by its nuclear program, which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes while the United Nations Security Council is concerned that its ultimate goal is to produce an atomic bomb.

Iran's major Asian clients - China, India, Japan and South Korea - have all cut imports heavily to secure a waiver from the sanctions and continued access to the U.S. financial system.

But an EU ban on insuring vessels carrying Iranian oil has nevertheless disrupted the flow to Asian buyers, as the maritime insurance industry is mostly based in Europe, while Iran does not have enough of the smaller aframax vessels which MRPL deliveries require.

MRPL was hoping to begin using its Single Point Mooring (SPM) to handle fully loaded cargoes bigger than aframaxes last May but that has been delayed until the end of February.

Upadhya said MRPL had replaced Iranian crude through a short-term deal with Azerbaijan, spot purchases and drawing more from term contractors such as ADNOC and Saudi Arabia.

(Writing by Ratnajyoti Dutta; editing by Jo Winterbottom and Jason Neely)

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