The suspected attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and Oman, has renewed concerns about the vulnerability of world energy supplies to military tensions in a highly volatile region.
About a fifth of all oil traded around the world goes through this body of water, so any conflict that threatens tankers could cause huge disruption to crude supplies for energy-hungry countries, particularly in Asia.
Here’s a look at the oil shipping through the region and its importance for the global economy.
Two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz suffered suspected attacks on Thursday. In all, 44 sailors were evacuated from the vessels and the U.S. Navy has assisted amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.
The Japanese government said the tankers’ cargo was related to Japan — and the attacks occurred just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran to ease Iran-U.S. tensions.
The incident comes after the U.S. alleged that Iran used mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month. Iran has denied being involved.
Meanwhile, Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen have increased their missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, which has been at war in Yemen against the rebels since 2015.
For reference, the Strait of Hormuz is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is in the territorial waters of Iran and Oman, which at its narrowest point is just 21 miles wide. The width of the shipping lane in either direction is 2 miles. It flows into the Gulf of Oman, where ships can then travel to the rest of the world.
About 20% of all oil traded worldwide passes through the strait. Some 18.5 million barrels of oil are transported through it every day from major OPEC energy producers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
About 80% of that goes to fast-growing, energy-hungry countries in Asia, including China, Japan, India and South Korea.
The strait is also used to export about a third of the world’s liquefied natural gas, from Qatar, the world’s biggest LNG producer.
Anything affecting the narrow passage ripples through global energy markets, raising the price of crude oil. That then trickles down to consumers through what they pay for gasoline and other oil products.