Tensions mount in the Persian Gulf as UK oil tanker seized by Iran in Strait of Hormuz

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A UK oil tanker has been seized by Iran in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, ratcheting up tensions in an increasingly skittish corner of the world.

Where is the Strait of Hormuz and why is this tiny congested stretch of water crucial on the world stage?

  • The narrow Strait of Hormuz carries almost one third of all seaborne oil to the rest of the world.
  • The narrow Strait of Hormuz carries almost one third of all seaborne oil to the rest of the world.Image: Google maps
  • The Strait of Hormuz lies between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, with Iran to its north and the Oman peninsula to its south.
  • It is one of the most congested shipping lanes in the world, with almost one third of the world’s seaborne crude oil being shipped through the narrow passage each year.
  • To keep oil supply flowing, unrestricted travel through the strait is vital, but because it is just 21 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point, tankers must enter the territorial waters of Iran and Oman to continue passage.
  • Relations between Iran and the United States have been brittle ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that deposed the US-backed Shah of
  • Iran and introduced strict Islamic rule.
  • Iran’s population has doubled to more than 80 million since the late 1970s.
  • From 2002 onward, a series of economic sanctions were levelled against Iran by the United Nations, the US and the European Union after it emerged that Iran was developing nuclear facilities, including a uranium enrichment program capable of producing nuclear weapons.
  • In 2013, US President Barack Obama opened dialogue with the newly-elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, widely seen to be a reformist and comparative religious moderate to his predecessors.
  • Two years later Iran agrees to scale down its nuclear development and admit international inspectors in return for the lifting of the economic sanctions.
  • One of the oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman in May.
  • The agreement was struck between Iran, the US, UK, France, Russia, Germany and China.
  • In May last year, Donald Trump announced the US was pulling out of the deal and subsequently reimposed economic sanctions on the Gulf state.
  • In May this year the US increased its military presence in the Gulf and shortly thereafter six oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which separates the Strait of Hormuz from the Indian Ocean.
  • On June 20, Iranian forces shot down a US military drone over the Strait of Hormuz. There is a dispute over whether the drone was flying over international waters or in Iranian airspace.
  • On July 4 Britain’s Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, under suspicions it was shipping oil to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions against the country.
  • On Friday, Iran retaliated by seizing a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz after it refused to comply with Iran’s orders to change course 360 degrees.
  • Germany and France have joined the UK calling for a release of the British tanker, Trump is tweeting.
  • There are now about 2,000 shipping companies now on high alert as guaranteed passage through the Strait of Hormuz becomes increasingly uncertain.