(Corrects timeline of Indonesian nickel ore export ban in paragraph 5)
* China Oct. nickel ore imports at 6.85 mln tonnes
* Shipments from Indonesia rise 23.4% to 3.11 mln tonnes
* Nickel pig iron imports at 168,835 tonnes in Oct.
BEIJING, Nov 25 (Reuters) - China's nickel ore imports from Indonesia surged 23.4% in October from the previous month, customs data showed on Monday, as Chinese buyers continued to stock up ahead of a ban on exports from top miners from January.
China imported 6.85 million tonnes of nickel ore and concentrate last month, according to the General Administration of Customs data. That was down 3.9% from 7.13 million tonnes in September, but up 23.2% from 5.56 million tonnes a year earlier.
Nickel ore is mainly used in China to make nickel pig iron, a raw material for stainless steel production. China's nickel pig iron imports in October fell 18.9% from September to 168,835 tonnes, customs data showed. Imports jumped 85.8% from 90,859 tonnes a year earlier.
Nickel ore shipments from Indonesia were 3.11 million tonnes in October, compared with the 2.52 million tonnes in September and surged 132.1% from 1.34 million tonnes a year earlier.
The last high was recorded in January 2014 when the export ban on Indonesia ore initially came into effect.
The restriction was relaxed in early 2017 and exports were allowed to resume on a quota basis according to progress on smelter developments. However, a complete ban is expected to come into effect from January 2020.
The expedited ban prompted a scramble to ship ore out of Indonesia, with Jakarta imposing a temporary ban on shipments late last month after discovering violations of export rules. It has since allowed nine companies to resume exports until the end of the year.
Indonesia shipped 8.85 million tonnes of nickel ore and nickel products in October, up slightly from 8.79 million tonnes in September, according to the Southeast Asian country's statistics agency.
"The decline of nickel ore imports last month was mainly driven by Philippines as it has entered rainy season," said Fu Zhiwen, analyst from Huatai Futures.
China's imports of nickel ore from the Philippines, an alternative source of supply but with lower-grade ore, came in at 3.38 million tonnes last month, down 23% from 4.39 million tonnes in September and 4.01 million tonnes in October 2018.
"The world may face 120,000-180,000 tonnes of shortage of the metal after Indonesia ban in early 2020," Fu said.
(Reporting by Tom Daly and Min Zhang; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Jan Harvey)