Here are some details about the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil export route, which Iran has threatened to block if it faces sanctions on crude exports:
* WHERE IS THE STRAIT?
- The channel is a narrow strip of water separating Oman and Iran. It connects the biggest Gulf oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
- At its narrowest point, the strait is 21 miles across and consists of 2-mile wide navigable channels for inbound and outbound shipping and a 2-mile-wide buffer zone.
* OIL SHIPMENTS:
- Hormuz had a daily oil flow of almost 17 million barrels in 2011, up from 15.5-16.0 million bpd in 2009-2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Flows through the Strait in 2011 were roughly 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide. U.S. warships patrol the area to ensure safe passage.
- On average, 14 crude oil tankers per day passed through the Strait in 2011, with a corresponding amount of empty tankers entering to pick up new cargoes. More than 85 percent of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations.
- In addition to crude oil, 2 million barrels of refined oil products are exported through the passage daily, as well as liquefied natural gas.
* ALTERNATIVE ROUTES:
- Industry sources said on Monday that the United Arab Emirates has delayed the launch of a crucial oil pipeline to bypass the Straits to mid-2012. The Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline project has a capacity of 1.5 million bpd and this could rise to 1.8 million bpd.
- Other alternate routes could include the deactivated 1.65-million bpd Iraqi Pipeline across Saudi Arabia, and the deactivated 0.5 million-bpd Tapline to Lebanon. Another operational pipeline route for Saudi crude is the 1,200 km (745 mile) Petroline, or "East-West Pipeline", across Saudi Arabia from Abqaiq to the Red Sea. The East-West Pipeline has a nameplate capacity of about 5 million bpd.
* STRATEGIC CORRIDOR:
- Iran warned on December 27 it could stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz if more sanctions were imposed on the country. The U.S. Fifth Fleet says it would not allow any disruption to shipping in the Strait.
- Four days later U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law a defense funding bill that imposes sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran's central bank, which is the main conduit for oil revenues.
- EU foreign ministers said last month that Iran's energy, financial and transport sectors might be targeted in response to Western suspicions that Tehran plans to build nuclear weapons. Iran confirmed on Monday the start of uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear plant, Iran's Arabic language al Alam TV reported. However Iran says it is developing nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes.
- Iran could mine the strait as it did during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
- The U.S. Fifth Fleet is responsible for an area that includes the Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. It consists of 20-plus ships, with about 15,000 people afloat and 1,000 ashore, with a Carrier Strike Group, an Amphibious Ready Group, combat aircraft, and other support units and ships.
- Iran's navy consists of 23 submarines and around 100 patrol and coastal vessels. It is no match for the firepower of U.S. sea forces, but Iran could still cause havoc in the region using unconventional tactics, such as deploying small craft to attack ships, or using allies in the area to strike U.S. or Israeli interests.
* INCIDENTS IN THE STRAIT:
- In 1988 the U.S. warship Vincennes, in the Strait, shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 on board, in what Washington said was an accident after crew mistook the plane for a fighter. Tehran called it a deliberate attack.
- The United States said Iranian boats had threatened its warships by aggressively approaching them in the Strait on January 6, 2008.
- In June 2008, Revolutionary Guards commander-in-chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said Iran would impose controls on shipping in the vital Gulf oil route if the country were attacked.
- In November 2010 a U.S. statement that militants were behind a blast on a Japanese tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in July increased concerns about security. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the failed raid on the M.Star. It was the first such militant attack in the Strait.