What is the Strait of Hormuz?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Strait of Hormuz is a strategically important strait between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. An estimated 20-40% of world oil supply -- primarily from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait -- travels through the Strait of Hormuz, which at its narrowest is only 21 mi (34 km) wide. The Strait of Hormuz is located between Musandam, an exclave of Oman in the south, and Iran in the north. The Strait of Hormuz is part of the national waters of Oman and Iran, but ships are permitted to pass under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has been ratified by most but not all signatory countries.

As the global oil trade would be disrupted if the Straits of Hormuz were blockaded or mined, several navies maintain a protective naval presence in its waters.
As the global oil trade would be disrupted if the Straits of Hormuz were blockaded or mined, several navies maintain a protective naval presence in its waters.

The Strait of Hormuz has been well known since ancient times, when the first seafarers in modern civilization departed the Babylonian Empire to the Arabian Sea to conduct trade with tribes to the east and west. Sinbad the Sailor, a fictional figure of ancient Middle Eastern origin, lived in the city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq, and would have set to sea on voyages by journeying through the Strait of Hormuz. Many historians believe that the tales of Sinbad the Sailor are at least partially based on real experiences of early sailors departing from the Persian Gulf and exploring the Indian Ocean. For instance, giant birds called rocs appear in the Sinbad stories, and these animals were likely inspired by the real-life existence of the recently-extinct Elephant Bird in Madagascar, which was as tall as 10 ft (3 m).

The Strait of Hormuz lies between the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
The Strait of Hormuz lies between the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Today, the Strait of Hormuz gets attention as one of the most volatile and politically edgy stretches of water in the world. Ships of the United States and Iranian navies frequent these waters, with the Iranians seeking to retain their territorial waters and Americans flexing their muscle in the Persian Gulf, as well as delivering supplies for the War in Iraq. The United States and Iranian navies have clashed a couple times in the Strait of Hormuz. Once in 1988, when Operation Praying Mantis, a one-day war, broke out when American destroyers sank two Iranian vessels in retaliation for the mining of the USS Samuel B. Roberts. Another clash occurred just three months later, when a United States guided missile cruiser accidentally shot down Iran Air flight 655, and another in 2008 when Iranian speedboats came dangerously close to US destroyers. Iran has repeatedly threatened to cut off the Strait of Hormuz if Iran were attacked by Israel or the United States, an action which would radically disrupt world oil supply.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


Whenever I read about the Strait of Hurmuz in the news, it's always about geo-political and geo-strategic issues. If the gulf wasn't so rich with oil, I don't think the Strait of Hurmuz would be so important today.

I read that something like one-fourth of the entire world's oil goes through the Strait of Hurmuz. And countries in Asia like Japan rely almost entirely on this oil.

This is why everyone is so concerned about the future of the Strait and that's why Iran's relations in the region is important too. It looks like as long as there is oil, the Strait of Hurmuz will remain important.


@simrin-- I agree with you but if Iran were to block the Strait of Hormuz, it would be disastrous not just for our economy but the entire world economy. I personally don't think that Iran would want to do that.

If I remember correctly, the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malaca between Indonesia and Malaysia, are two of the most important routes for oil shipments. If you know about the oil industry, then you must also know that a sudden disruption of oil transportation in the whole world can mess up the whole system.

These disruptions always lead to huge increases in the oil price which affects everyone from regular people like you and me to important world industries. So it wouldn't just be U.S. that is hurt by this, it would hurt everyone else who uses oil as well.


I think the Strait of Hormuz is very important for U.S. interests in the Middle East. Just like the article said, it allows access to several important countries and regions like Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the rest of Southeast Asia.

I can't say that I'm an expert on Iran-U.S. relations but just watching about the unfortunate encounters between U.S. and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz on a TV program, I think that we need to be more careful about our activity there.

Of course we're going to take advantage of the UN Convention law and continue our activity there. But I also believe that Iran can keep us out of the Strait of Hormuz if it really wants to which would be a big hit on our economic interests there. That's why I think we should not get on Iran's bad side about this.

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