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Strait of Hormuz — a key oil choke point

Andreas Rostek-Buetti hg
June 14, 2019

Following a number of oil tanker blasts in the Gulf of Oman, tensions between the United States and Iran are rising further. DW takes a closer look at what role the Strait of Hormuz plays for global oil supplies.

Strait of Hormuz, bird's view
Image: imago/StockTrek Images

The price for a barrel of Brent oil increased by 2% in London during Friday morning trading. In New York, West Texas Intermediate also went up.

International Crisis Group analyst Elizabeth Dickinson spoke of "a dangerous moment for the region," adding that every misjudgment or misunderstanding could escalate the situation even further.

This week's oil tanker blasts followed similar incidents in May when Saudi Arabia reported that two tankers had been damaged during "acts of sabotage." The United States believes that Iran is behind this week's explosions.

The Gulf of Oman is connected with the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz. The latter is one of the most important waterways globally and is particularly crucial for oil transports from the Gulf region.

About one-fifth of global oil shipments pass the Strait of Hormuz, amounting to 17.4 million barrels per day in the first half of last year. According to Vortexa analysts, global demand is about 100 million barrels per day. The Strait of Hormuz is equally important as a transport route for liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar.

Neuralgic route

The route connects many different powers and oil market players, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq. At one point along the route, the strait is less than 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide, but the actual width of the fairway for the huge tankers is roughly 3 kilometers in both directions, meaning the waterway is an easily controllable, neuralgic place.

US escort ships in the Suez Canal in May 2019
US escort ships in the Suez Canal were seen off the coast of Egypt earlier this yearImage: picture-alliance/Mass Communication Specialist 3r/U.S. Navy/AP/dpa

Small wonder the Strait of Hormuz hits the headlines when regional powers are at loggerheads. Iranian Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned a while ago that the strait could be closed completely, should hostilities go on. He referred to the United States' sanctions against the country in the row over the West's nuclear treaty with Tehran.

The Isna news agency had quoted Bagheri as saying that "if our oil doesn't get shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, other nations' oil won't either." The White House in turn hasn't tired of warning that each attack on America's interests will be answered adequately.

Saber-rattling or more than that?

There's an alarming backdrop to that statement. While the US Congress had not allowed the president to wage a war against Iran's regular armed forces, he could target terrorists. The US administration classified the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — a branch of Iran's armed forces — as a foreign terrorist organization.

The current saber-rattling in the region has had an impact on the global economy already and will continue to do so. UBS natural resources expert Wayne Gordon pointed out that geopolitical tensions and the uncertainties surrounding them could easily push up the price for a barrel of oil to $100.