(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s seaborne coal exports returned to near the highest levels on record after the European Union loosened restrictions on transporting the commodity, making it easier to redirect volumes to Asia. 

Shipments in October were almost 16.6 million tons -- just shy of the level in June, which was the highest since at least 2017, figures from analytics firm Kpler show. Exports have slipped a bit since then, in line with normal seasonal volatility.

The EU banned the import of Russian coal and other goods into the bloc as of Aug. 10. In September, the European Commission issued revised guidance, saying that providing services -- like shipping, financing and insurance -- needed to transfer the coal and other products outside the EU should be permitted in order to fight energy and food insecurity worldwide.

Russia is traditionally among the world’s top three coal exporters, though the industry accounts for just a sliver of the Russian economy. 

“Coal shipment destinations have changed since the start of the year with Turkey being one of the keys to Russian success, while China contributed too,” Kpler analyst Viktor Katona said by e-mail. Sales declined when the EU restrictions were in place in September, he added. 

Kpler’s analysis is based on data for coking and thermal coal from ports, brokers and its analytics network. It doesn’t include Russia’s coal exports by rail.

Europe is still not allowed to import Russian coal, but European companies are now allowed to ship the commodity to third countries. Russian coal sales to Asia boomed immediately after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as it redirected some of its European exports, but the country faces higher shipping costs as it sells to customers further away. 

Coal use has surged since the war began, as nations across the globe seek cheaper alternatives to volatile natural gas prices.

READ: Coal Was Meant to Be History. Instead, Its Use Is Soaring

“It is possible that EU’s clarification of their coal sanctions eased concerns from operators over whether they could transport Russian coal,” said Filipe Gouveia, an analyst at international shipping organization Bimco. “However we believe a pickup in demand from cost-sensitive markets is more likely to be the cause for this increase.”

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