With shipping lanes just 3 kilometers wide in either direction, the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf is one of the world’s most narrow sea lanes. It’s also one of the most important, as one-third of all crude oil traded by sea passes through it every day.

“The world should know that America is committed to keeping sea lanes open, to keep transit of oil available for the entire world,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in July, following threats from the Iranian regime to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

More than 85 percent of the oil that moves through the strait is headed to Asia — chiefly Japan, India, South Korea and China.

U.S. Navy Captain Bill Urban said American sailors, partners and regional allies together “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”

Map showing Strait of Hormuz and nearby countries (State Dept./D. Thompson)
The strait’s narrowest point is 34 kilometers wide, with 3-kilometer shipping lanes in either direction letting just 14 ships enter every day and 14 more exit. (State Dept./D. Thompson)

Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all ship crude oil through the Strait of Hormuz, where it travels to the Arabian Sea then makes its way to ports around the world. Qatar also ships a significant amount of liquefied natural gas through the strait.

Although Iran and Oman share territorial rights of the waters on their coastlines, according to the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, Hormuz is an “international strait” (all ships enjoy the right of safe passage) because it is the only means to reach the open sea from the Persian Gulf.

In fact, merchants from the Near East and the Indian subcontinent have traded goods through the Strait since the third millennium BCE, connecting Near Eastern civilizations, and later European, with their counterparts in South, Southeast and East Asia.

And the U.S. has a long history of protecting the strait. “The United States has made very clear we’re going to make sure that the sea lanes remain open. It’s been a longstanding U.S. policy and we’re prepared to make sure that that happens,” Pompeo stated.