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Reuters March 27, 2007

FACTBOX-The Strait of Hormuz, Iran and the risk to oil

March 27 (Reuters) - Oil prices hit a 2007 high this week on tensions over Iran's nuclear plans and its capture of 15 British servicemen.

Analysts fear Iran could seek to impede trade through the Strait of Hormuz if it were threatened or attacked.

The strategic channel at the entrance to the Gulf is the world's most important waterway or choke point because of the huge volume of oil exported through it daily.

-- Oil flows through the Strait account for roughly two-fifths of all globally traded oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

-- Some 16-17 million barrels of oil are carried through the narrow channel on oil tankers every day, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Some 2 million barrels of oil products, including fuel oil, are exported through the passage daily.

-- Ninety percent of oil exported from Gulf producers is carried on oil tankers through the Strait.

-- Iran, which sits adjacent to the strait, has in the past talked of impeding traffic through it if threatened.

-- The IEA in February noted Arab and Iranian press reports about political pressure in Iran for shipping to be blocked if U.N. sanctions are applied in connection with its nuclear programme.

-- U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) key mission in the Gulf is to ensure the free flow of oil and energy supplies.

-- Between 1984 and 1987, a "Tanker War" took place between Iran and Iraq, where each nation fired on each other's oil tankers bound for their respective ports. Foreign-flagged vessels were caught in the crossfire.

-- Shipping in the Gulf dropped by 25 percent because of the exchange, forcing the intervention of the United States to secure the shipping lanes.

-- Iran has admitted to deploying anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on Abu Musa, an island strategically located near the Strait's shipping lanes.

-- The EIA predicts oil exports passing through the strait will double to between 30 million and 34 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2020.

-- Over 75 percent of Japan's oil passes through the Strait.

-- Merchant ships carrying grains, iron ore, sugar, perishables and containers full of finished goods also pass through the strategic sea corridor en route to Gulf countries and major ports like Dubai.

-- Heavy armour and military supplies for the U.S. armed forces in Iraq and other Gulf countries pass through the channel aboard U.S. Navy-owned, U.S.-flagged and foreign-flagged ships.

-- Geographic location: a narrow bend of water separating Oman and Iran connects biggest Gulf oil producers like Saudi Arabia with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

-- At its narrowest point the Strait is only 34 miles (55 km) across.

-- The Strait consists of 2-mile wide navigable channels for inbound and outbound tanker traffic as well as a 2-mile wide buffer zone.

Sources: International Energy Agency (IEA), U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), GlobalSecurity.org, U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command, Clarkson shipping consultancy.


Copyright 2007, Reuters