Strait of Hormuz

Assessing the threat to oil flows through the Strait


Suez Canal

The Suez Canal and the Sumed pipeline connect the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea. Some 4.2 million barrels of oil transit the area each day with the bulk of product moving northbound from Saudi Arabia via the pipeline. Closure of the canal would divert tanker traffic around the Cape of Good Hope, substantially increasing transit time and driving up costs. The Suez Canal was blocked and closed between 1967 and 1975 due to regional conflict.

The Bosporus is a 17-mile long strait dividing Asia from Europe and connecting the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Roughly 3.1 million barrels of oil flow through the Bosporus each day. The Bosporus is less than a half-mile wide at its narrowest point and is one of the busiest and most difficult thruways to navigate. Weather and shipping accidents, not necessarily conflict or terrorism, are the primary concerns in this chokepoint.

The Bab el-Mandab (or Mandab Strait) connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. Roughly three million barrels of oil flow through this waterway each day. Closure of the waterway would prevent tanker traffic bound from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal, primarily impairing exports to Europe. It was near this location that a small boat attacked the M/V Limburg, a French VLCC, in October of 2002.

The Panama Canal connects the Pacific Ocean with the Caribbean Sea. Approximately a half million barrels of oil transit the canal each day. Oil traffic is limited to smaller tankers (Panamax) due to narrow lock sizes. Most traffic through the canal is destined for the United States, although little of this traffic is crude oil.

[i] John H. Noer, Chokepoints: Maritime Economic Concerns in Southeast Asia, Washington: National Defense University, 1996.

This page last modified in August 2008