(Reuters) - 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:
- The channel is a narrow strip of water separating Oman and Iran. It connects the biggest Gulf oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia, 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.
- Flows through the Strait in 2009 were roughly 33 percent of all seaborne traded oil (40 percent in 2008), or 17 percent of oil traded worldwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
- Some 15.5 million barrels per day (bpd) passed through in 2009, according to the EIA. U.S. warships patrol the area to ensure the safe passage.
- Most of the oil exported through the Strait travels to Asia, the United States and Western Europe. About three-quarters of Japan’s oil imports and about 50 percent of China’s pass through the strait.
- Two million barrels of oil products are exported through the passage daily, as well as liquefied natural gas.
- Industry sources say the United Arab Emirates could soon start pumping oil via a pipeline that would allow it to bypass the Strait. The Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline project has a capacity of up to 2.5 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 Petroline, or “East-West Pipeline.”
- Iran had warned on Tuesday it could stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz if more sanctions were imposed on the country. EU foreign ministers decided this month to tighten sanctions on Tehran to force it to halt its nuclear work. Iran says it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
- Iran could mine the strait as it did during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. However the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, protects shipping lanes in the Gulf and nearby.
- The 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 1,000 people ashore and 15,000 afloat, with a Carrier Battle 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 Combatants. Analysts have said that Iran may not match the firepower of U.S. forces but 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.
- 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.
- In early 2008 the United States said Iranian boats had threatened its warships after Iranian boats aggressively approached three U.S. naval ships in the Strait on January 6.
- 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 was attacked. “Regarding the main route for exiting energy, Iran will definitely act to impose control on the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz,” Jafari said.
- Just days later in July, Ali Shirazi, a mid-level cleric and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, said: “The Zionist regime is pressuring White House officials to attack Iran. If they commit such a stupidity, Tel Aviv and U.S. shipping in the Persian Gulf will be Iran’s first targets and they will be burned.”
- 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.
Sources: Reuters/International Energy Agency (IEA)/ U.S. EIA here
Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Alison Williams