Greece wrestles with a decision by Iran to stop the flow of crude oil.
By H.K. Tzanis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 17/04/12
Production at the crude oil refinery near the city of Corinth may be impacted by the cut-off of Iranian oil supplies. [Reuters]
Greece's two major refining companies, Hellenic Petroleum (EL.PE) and Motor Oil group, confirmed on April 10th that they stopped receiving Iranian crude oil, echoing similar statements by Iranian officials hours earlier.
International news agencies also cited same-day reports of Iran halting oil shipments to Spain and contemplating similar actions against Germany and Italy in the wake of an EU decision in January to impose sanctions on the Middle East over its contentious nuclear programme, starting July 1st.
Although the Iranian side did not specifically point to the sanctions as causing the decision, Tehran has already cut oil shipments to Britain and France.
News outlets reports in the country last week, such as the Press TV web site, justified the ban on sales to Greece's two petrochemical giants, by claiming they defaulted on their payments.
On Tuesday, EL.PE officials said the group is seeking new crude oil suppliers to fill the shortfall caused by the Iranian decision, although contingency plans started immediately after the EU decision against Iran in January.
EL.PE also owns the OK.TA AD refinery outside Skopje. Local press reports claim EL.PE is looking to North African suppliers and Russia to fill the gap.
Company executive Angelos Stranis told SETimes that EL.PE imported about 25% of its crude oil supplies from Iran in 2011, up from 7% in 2010. He said his company's requirements are roughly 325,000 barrels a day.
Pressed further, he declined to elaborate on the group's strategy.
"Our position is that we do not publicly comment on our commercial and trading policy," Stranis said, adding that the halt in the Iranian oil imports will not affect prices at the pumps.
Motor Oil CFO Petros Tzannetakis, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that his listed company has ceased transactions with Iran for "quite some time now".
Regardless of whether the Iranian action is considered a "counter-sanction", energy sector reporter Yannis Kanoupakis told SETimes that bank transactions with the Iran oil sector had also become increasingly difficult recently.
Press attache Mahmoud Baladi at the Iranian embassy in Athens merely repeated that his government has issued no official reason for the stoppage of oil shipments to Greece and other EU countries. A day later, Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said Tehran had indeed stopped exporting crude oil to the two Greek refining groups, without offering details.