The world’s prime oil route: The Strait of Hormuz
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most important waterways. Some 40% of all seaborne oil passes through this narrow passageway, which is equivalent to about 20% of total oil traded worldwide. This amounts to 16.5 to 17 million barrels per day, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The strait is vital to the international economy; it is the access point to the heart of the world’s largest producers of oil, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and Iraq.
This very narrow waterway lies between Iran and Oman. It is about 34 km (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point. The strait is so shallow that oil tankers can effectively navigate only some 9.7 km (6 miles) of the width. According to Finian Cunningham, writing for Globalresearch.ca, 2 miles are reserved for traffic into the Gulf, 2 miles for traffic leading out, and 2 miles as a buffer zone between the two lanes.
Cunningham writes that “[u]nder international maritime law, Iran (along with Oman) has sovereign territorial rights over these waters. Iran has under United Nations law agreed to grant ‘innocent passage’ to ships through its waters provided there is no infringement of its security.”
In comparison to the Strait of Hormuz, other significant seaborne chokepoints for the transit of oil include the Suez Canal (4.5 million barrels per day), and the Strait of Malacca (15 million barrels per day). The Strait of Hormuz does not only see more transit of oil, but it is also the passage on which the other straights depend for much of their own traffic since most oil exported from the the energy abundant Gulf states are overwhelmingly reliant on Hormuz to access global markets.
More from the US Energy Information Administration:
In 2007, total world oil production amounted to approximately 85 million barrels per day (bbl/d), and around one-half, or over 43 million bbl/d of oil was moved by tankers on fixed maritime routes. The international energy market is dependent upon reliable transport. The blockage of a chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs.
The bulk of the Middle East oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz makes its way to Asia, the US, and Western Europe.
3/4 of Japan’s consumption of oil passes through the strait.
China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, sources over 70% of its imported oil from the Middle East, according to the People’s Daily.
India depends on the Middle East for nearly 74% of its imports of crude oil (2007-8).
South Korea received over 80% of its imported crude oil from the Middle East for the greater part of 2009.
The US imports about 24% of its crude oil from the Gulf (2008).