Explosions that damaged two tankers south of the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday (June 13) come a month after four vessels were targeted in "sabotage attacks" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Below are details about the Strait:
What is the Strait of Hormuz?
- The Strait lies between Oman and Iran
- It links the Gulf north of it with the Gulf of Oman to the south and the Arabian Sea beyond
- It is 33km wide at its narrowest point, with the shipping lane just 3km wide in either direction
- The UAE and Saudi Arabia have sought to find other routes to bypass the Strait, including building more oil pipelines
Why does it matter?
- Almost a fifth of the world's oil passes through the Strait - some 17.4 million barrels per day (bpd) versus consumption of about 100 million bpd in 2018, data from analytics firm Vortexa showed.
- OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq export most of their crude via the Strait
- Qatar, the world's biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, sends almost all of its LNG through the Strait
- The United States has imposed sanctions on Iran aimed at halting its oil exports
- Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the US tries to strangle its economy
- The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, is tasked with protecting commercial shipping in the area
Major past incidents
- During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, the two sides sought to disrupt each other's oil exports in what was known as the Tanker War
- In July 1988, the US warship Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 aboard, in what Washington said was an accident and Teheran said was a deliberate attack
- In early 2008, the US said Iranian vessels threatened three US Navy ships in the Strait
- In July 2010, Japanese oil tanker M Star was attacked in the Strait by a militant group called Abdullah Azzam Brigades that was linked to Al Qaeda
- In January 2012, Iran threatened to block the Strait in retaliation for US and European sanctions that targeted its oil revenue in an attempt to stop Teheran's nuclear programme
- In May 2015, Iranian ships seized a container ship in the Strait and fired shots at a Singapore-flagged tanker which it said damaged an Iranian oil platform
- In July 2018, President Hassan Rouhani hinted Iran could disrupt oil trade through the Strait in response to US calls to reduce Iran's oil exports to zero
- In May 2019, four vessels - including two Saudi oil tankers - were attacked off the UAE coast near Fujairah, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs, just outside the Strait of Hormuz