West African crude exports to China rose sharply at the end of November and December, helping to lift Chinese imports to a new record in January.

Seaborne crude exports from the West African region to China rose to around 1.6mn b/d in December, Vortexa data shows— the highest level since likely record exports in the second quarter of last year.

November’s shipments along the same route were lower at 1.35mn b/d, but a much quicker export rate between 14-30 November boosted China’s January-arrival imports.

Most of China’s west African intake is from Opec member Angola, whose exports to China of almost 1.2mn b/d in December were at their highest since April.

Angolan crude grades are especially favoured by China’s independent refiners, with Qingdao port in the country’s eastern Shandong province being the top destination for Angolan crude arrivals. Around a quarter of the Angolan crude that headed to China in November and December went to—  or is still on its way — to Qingdao.

China said its total crude imports rose to a record 9.6mn b/d in January. Demand has been rising on the back of a wane in domestic production, strategic stockpile additions, increased buying from independent refiners and new refinery capacity additions in the second half of the year, including the Anning and Huizhou refineries. January imports were also bolstered by the award of new import quotas to refiners from the beginning of 2018.

Ghanaian crude finds favour  

Ghanaian crude exports to China notably rose to a multi-year high in November of over 150,000 b/d, mostly comprising the medium sweet Sankofa grade, whose production began in May 2017. The remainder of Ghana’s exports to China that month consisted of the light sweet Jubilee and the medium sweet TEN grade.

The Republic of Congo exported around 200,000 b/d to China in November and December, while Gabon also remained a steady exporter over the same period, with around 60,000 b/d of crude shipped to China between November-January.

Elsewhere in Africa, five VLCCs of crude departed from the Saldanha Bay storage facility in South Africa across November and December and headed to China, with around half of those volumes heading to Qingdao for December-February arrival.