Saturday, January 14, 2012

Strait of Hormuz

The Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean, and thus the rest of the world, is once again a source of conflict. The United States and the West struggle to keep this oil route open while Iran threatens to close it down in retaliation for the West’s interference with its nuclear program. One Iranian official said last week that closing the Strait would be “as easy as drinking a glass of water,” but in thirty years of tensions in the area, the oil has kept flowing.

Strait of Hormuz traffic scheme.
The Strait is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest. It falls well within the exclusive economic zones of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran. Under a provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, called the transit provision, ships of all nations may pass through the Strait, as long they adhere to the regulations governing the traffic separation scheme (TSS) laid out on charts of the area. The TSS consists of an inbound and outbound lane, each a mile wide, with a two-mile buffer zone on either side. Ship traffic is supervised by Oman.

More than a third of the world’s seaborne oil supply– more than a fifth of the total world’s oil traffic – passes through the Strait. An average of 14 tankers up to 150,000 tons each pass through the Strait in each direction every day. Forty-percent of the world’s tanker traffic passes through the Strait.
The countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE have no sea routes that don’t pass through the Strait, and Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran itself all rely heavily on traffic passing through the Strait.

Conflicts. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Strait has been the site of conflict between Iran and several other countries
  • Iran first threatened to close the Strait in 1984 after Iraq attacked several Iranian ships in the area.
  • The US and Iran came to blows there in April 1988 after an Iranian mine damaged an American frigate. Several Iranian ships were sunk and damaged in retaliation. In July that year, an American ship shot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290 people.
  • Iran and UAE have both claimed possession of the islands of Abu Musa – said to contain large deposits of oil – Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb. Iran occupies the islands militarily at the moment.
  • The US and Iran again ratcheted up tension in 2007-2008, when several armed Iranian speedboats had close encounters with ships from the American Fifth Fleet.

Related Posts

Related Articles
Encylopedia of Earth: Strait of Hormuz
Los Angeles Times Op-Ed: Strait talk with Iran
US Energy Information Administration: World Oil Transit Chokepoints

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