The Strait of Hormuz lies between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, with Iran at its northern side and the United Arab Emirates and Musandam (an exclave of Oman) on its southern side. The straight is very significant in the fact that it is the only waterbody that sailors can use to travel to the open seas from the Persian Gulf.
Definition of a Strait
A strait is a narrow waterway that joins two bigger water bodies and is formed naturally. Typically, straights are sandwiched by two land masses. As mentioned previously, the Strait of Hormuz joins the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and is sandwiched between Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Musandam.
While some straits are navigable, some of them are incapable of supporting water travels because of insufficient depth or impeding reefs of archipelagos. Sometimes the word “strait” is used interchangeably with terms like “channel”, “pass” and “passage.”
Several canals are human-made to join two large water bodies like the Suez Canal. Despite satisfying the conditions of a strait, a canal is different from a strait. Rivers may also form a passageway that links two water bodies. Such rivers are also different from straits. The word “strait” is typically reserved for larger and more extensive features of the water world. However, there are some exceptions where canals are called straits such as the Pearse Canal.
Importance of the Strait of Hormuz
The strait’s importance to the world lies in its strategic placement as a chokepoint. Chokepoints are narrow water channels that are used for transportation. In this case, the chokepoint is a strait, but it could also be a canal. The narrowest point of the strait has a width of 29 nautical miles, and the broadest point is roughly 60 miles. The strait’s length is approximately 21 to 60 miles long. The shipping lanes, measuring two miles in width, are even narrower considering that the depth throughout the width is not enough for colossal tankers. The international community depends on the oil that is produced in the Middle East. In the year 2011, close to 20% of the world’s oil, around 17 million oil barrels, passed through the strait on a daily basis equating to more than 6 billion oil barrels for that year.
Disputes Over the Strait of Hormuz
Due to its strategic placement, the strait has been a region of skirmishes between nations with Iran threatening to close the strait. Several wars have threatened the usage of the strait like the Iran-Iraq war back in the 1980’s which caused massive disruption of shipping. The USA has also had encounters with Iran that led to threats of closure by Iran. For example, 1988 saw the USA attack Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Recent tensions between the USA and Iran was between 2007 and 2008 when tensions between the two nations led to threats of closure with the latest threat in 2012 after an Iranian oil embargo by the EU because of Iran’s nuclear programs. Despite all these threats, the strait has never been closed.