China, the world's top coal consumer, imported 44.3 million metric tons of the fuel last month, customs data showed, the highest amount in any month since 2015 at least, as coal-powered electricity demand increased to offset weak hydropower output.

The imports were up 12.9% on July and 53% higher from the same month a year earlier, the data showed.

The August imports were higher than the previous record of 43.56 million metric tons reached in January 2020.

Demand for thermal coal used by the power sector was supported by low rainfall in the south of China, which saw output from hydropower facilities in provinces such as Sichuan and Yunnan slide.

Higher imports were also driven by a recent trend of lower domestic supply. China's coal output slipped 6.3% in July on the month as authorities tightened safety and shut mines for inspections amid a string of deadly accidents.

Domestic coal prices increased through August as a result, with SteelHome assessing the benchmark price for thermal coal with energy content of 5,500 kilocalories at the port of Qinhuangdao at 835 yuan ($114) per metric ton on Aug. 28, up 8.4% on 2023's low of 779 yuan per ton seen in June.

Coal imports during the first eight months stood at 306 million metric tons, up 82% from a year earlier, customs data showed. ($1=7.3216 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Andrew Hayley and Ningwei Qin; editing by Miral Fahmy)