The attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which connects the Arabian Sea with the Strait of Hormuz, a critical choke-point in one the world’s busiest shipping routes, has raised tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Within hours of Thursday’s attack on the vessels, one is Japanese-owned and the other Norwegian, the U.S. has blamed Iran for the incident.
This was the second time in two months oil tankers have come under attack in the region. On May 12, four vessels, owned by Saudi Arabia and Norway, were targeted off the UAE coast, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. had blamed Iran for that attack as well. Tehran has denied any role in the incidents.
Why Strait of Hormuz is important?
The Gulf (also known as the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf) lies between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. Besides Iran and Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq also share the Gulf coastline. As all these countries are energy-rich, the Gulf naturally emerged as a major trade route through which most of the oil exported from these countries flow out. Strait of Hormuz is a choke-point between the Gulf and the open ocean. With Iran on its northern coast and the UAE and an Omanian enclave on the south, the Strait, at its narrowest point, has a width of 34 km. The Strait opens to the Gulf of Oman which is connected to the Arabian Sea. A third of crude oil exports transported via ships pass through the Strait.
Besides oil, nearly all the exported liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar, the world’s second largest LNG exporter, pass through the Strait of Hormuz. If the Strait is closed or if the flow of oil and gas is disrupted, it would have serious impact on global energy stability and thereby on world economy.
The last Tanker War
Last time when there was a tanker war in the Gulf, it lasted for years and caused a major rise in prices and drop in commercial shipping. In the 1980s, when Iran and Iraq were locked in a conflict, both sides targeted each other’s energy vessels in the Gulf and on the Strait of Hormuz.