Iran storing 30 million barrels of oil at sea

LONDON/SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - Iran is storing at least 30 million barrels of oil on its fleet of supertankers as Western sanctions continue to keep a lid on sales, tanker market sources say.

World powers are trying to reach a framework deal with Teheran by the end of the month that would restrict the most sensitive aspects of Iran's disputed atomic programme in return for an easing of international sanctions.

Sanctions have halved Iran's oil exports to just over a million barrels a day since 2012 and hammered its economy.

Higher Iranian oil exports are likely to put more pressure on weak global oil prices.

Iran has parked unsold crude oil stocks off its coast, mainly onboard tankers belonging to its national carrier NITC.

One shipping industry source said 15 of NITC's Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC), each capable of carrying two million barrels of oil, were deployed for floating storage.

Tanker broker EA Gibson also estimated separately that 15 NITC supertankers were being used to park crude off Iran's coast, an amount unchanged since the beginning of February.

Iranian floating storage peaked at 18 NITC tankers in September last year and has not fallen below 14 tankers since the start of this year, Gibson estimates showed.

"Iran is keen to resume crude oil exports as quickly as possible as the recent fall in the oil price has impacted heavily on their already limited ability to export crude," Gibson said.

Gibson said sanctions may be removed in stages, which would "delay a quick resumption of crude exports", adding that insurance and banking restrictions remained in place.

In a blow to Iran's shipping sector, the European Union reimposed sanctions on NITC in February, hampering its ability to secure foreign insurance and trade with international shipping companies.

NITC, which is also blacklisted by the United States has a fleet with a carrying capacity of at least 76 million barrels of oil.

Thomson Reuters Oil Research & Forecasts showed at least 20 million barrels of oil were being stored on NITC tankers.

Iran has also stored crude at a leased facility in China.