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Hormuz: Safeguarding the Gulf’s black gold

The Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. (Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

The Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. (Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)



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ABU DHABI—A new industrial port and a 402 km pipeline are under construction at Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates in a desperate bid to bypass the Strait of Hormuz and the ever-looming threat of an Iranian blockade. Should Iran ever seek to impose a blockade of the strait, as it has repeatedly threatened to do in the past, it would jeopardise the millions of barrels that every day pass through the busy stretch of sea linking the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The pipeline should be completed by 2010. It will be used to export roughly two-thirds of the oil produced in Abu Dhabi, which alone accounts for 90 percent of the UAE’s oil output. The pipeline will transport 1.5 billion barrels per day from the Habshan oil field, through a single 122 cm diametre pipe.

These measures have “reduced the potential nuisance of Iranian threats”, according to Francis Perrin, editor of the journal “Arab Oil and Gas”. Since 1984, tensions have never been far from the boil point in the Straits, however. Iran set up a new naval base to the east of the strategic strait in October following an incident involving the U.S. and Iranian navies in January 2007.

According to Perrin, the UAE pipeline can only go only so far in protecting the security of Gulf oil, as the strait will still be used to transport a huge amount of the region’s most valuable commodity to the rest of the world. The strait remains, he says, “a key passage for oil tankers”.

Given the geography of the strait, adds Perrin, it would be easy for Iran to impose a blockade. “We know that the Iranian navy is there and that it is powerful; it would not be difficult to mine the whole area. It is a threat we cannot rule out.”

Located between Oman and Iran, the strait connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Hormuz is the world's most important oil chokepoint because of its daily oil flow of 16 million to 17 million barrels, which is roughly 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil (or 20 percent of oil traded worldwide).

At its narrowest point, the strait is 34 km wide, and the shipping lanes consist of two-mile wide channels for inbound and outbound tanker traffic. The majority of oil exported through the strait travels to Asia, the U.S. and Western Europe. Currently, three-quarters of all Japan’s oil passes through here. On average, 15 crude oil tankers pass through daily, in addition to other ships carrying petroleum products and liquefied natural gas.




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