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India seen overtaking China as biggest importer of Seaborne Russian Crude Oil

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NEW DELHI : India, fuelled by its appetite for discounted Ural grades, is understood to have overtaken China as the top destination for Seaborne Russian Crude Oil this month. The overall Russian crude oil imports to India are set to exceed 1 million barrels a day (b/d) in July, of which Urals crude has accounted for 880,000 b/d in the first 25 days, according to London-based energy analytics company Vortexa.

China’s import of seaborne Russian crude oil is likely to end July below India’s, although definitive Chinese numbers are not available.

“China and India continue to haul in Russian crude from the seaborne market, with India likely to pass China to be the top importer in July. This is the first time Indian imports of seaborne Russian crude have exceeded those from China,” said Emma Li, China analyst for Vortexa.

Russian Urals crude going to China on ships has been 300,000 b/d this month. China receives more of the Russian ESPO Blend crude favoured by its independent refiners mainly based in Shandong. China also buys ESPO Blend under a long-term contract via dedicated pipelines.

Russian crude oil travelling through pipelines is not included in this study. However, it is estimated to be only around 10 to 20 per cent of all crude oil flowing out of Russia; the remaining vast majority is through ships on sea, which are tracked by Vortexa. The share of pipelines used to be over one-third before the Russia-Ukraine war. Much of it went to Europe.

India predominantly buys the Urals grade, shipped from Black Sea ports and Mediterranean, but it has also started taking a different Russian grade shipped from the Far East, though that entails a much longer sea route.

Supplies of Russian Urals to India are slightly down — 3 per cent — from June, but that gap can be made up by the time July ends. Urals, a slightly heavier and higher-sulphur grade compared to ESPO Blend, suits India’s refineries and is available in adequate quantities, said R Ramachandran, an oil industry consultant and former refinery head at BPCL.

Russia has emerged as one of India’s top three crude oil suppliers since the war broke out in late February. The invasion unleashed sanctions by the United States and Europe, prompting Moscow to offer discounts of around $30 a barrel on Urals.

“Apart from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, we believe it is the UAE, United States and Mexico that will see some of their flows being replaced by Russian crude,” said Rohit Rathod, a senior oil market analyst at Vortexa.

UAE oil supplies to India more than halved in May from April to 387,000 barrels a day as Russian shipments more than doubled. US oil supplies dropped by 71 per cent in May to 161,000 barrels a day from February before recovering to 326,000 barrels a day in June.

Russia shipped 1.18 million barrels a day of crude in June, displacing Iraq as India’s premier oil supplier, from 823,000 barrels a day in May, Vortexa data shows. Iraq supplied 1.13 million barrels a day in June and Saudi Arabia shipped 784,000 barrels a day compared to 976,000 barrels a day and 774,000 barrels a day in May, respectively.

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