* Iron ore imports at 97.27 mln T - Rtrs calculations
* January-April imports at 360 mln T vs 340 mln T year earlier
BEIJING, May 7 (Reuters) - China’s iron ore imports rose 13% in April from a month earlier on robust demand from steelmakers as downstream sectors started to emerge from lockdowns aimed to containing the coronavirus epidemic.
Arrivals of the key steelmaking ingredient stood at 97.27 million tonnes last month, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the General Administration of Customs.
That compares with imports of 85.91 million tonnes in March and 80.77 million tonnes a year earlier, when shipments from Brazil’s top miner Vale SA were disrupted after a tailings dam disaster.
“On a monthly basis, imports jumped as shipments from big miners were typically lower in the first quarter due to seasonal factors like weather conditions,” said Zhao Yu, an analyst with Huatai Futures.
Vessel-tracking and port data from Refinitiv showed arrivals of iron ore in April from Australia jumped 12% on a month earlier, while imports from Brazil rose 10%.
The spreading pandemic has forced some steel producers in Asia to cut output in response to deteriorating demand.
However, Chinese demand for ore has been fuelled by mills ramping up production on an early recovery in construction activity and expectations that more government stimulus for infrastructure will revive consumption.
Capacity utilisation rates at blast furnaces in 247 mills tracked by Mysteel consultancy rose for a seventh straight week to 81.68% as of April 30, up from below 74% in mid-March.
In the first four months of the year, China brought in 360 million tonnes of iron ore, up 5.8% from 340.21 million tonnes in the same period last year, the customs data showed.
Reporting by Min Zhang and Tom Daly; editing by Richard Pullin