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World Association of International Studies

Post Who Owns the Strait of Hormuz?
Created by John Eipper on 06/18/19 3:54 AM

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Who Owns the Strait of Hormuz? (Timothy Brown, USA, 06/18/19 3:54 am)

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich's post (16 June) is predicated on an assumption that the Strait of Hormuz is 100% legally sovereign Iranian territory right up to the beaches of Oman. It is not.

The shipping lanes through that Strait are almost entirely within the sovereign territory of Oman in accord with an agreement on its maritime boundaries, with Iran on its north and Oman on its south. Hormuz is a major SLOC choke point of critical strategic importance, as was Malacca before the PRC took de facto dominance of South China Sea. Alternatives to Hormuz that were considered more than 30 years ago--a canal through Oman bypassing Hormuz and/or a pipeline capable of moving crude across northern Saudi Arabia would have minimized the problem.

Now we appear to have yet another strategic challenge to one of the major SLOCs.

JE comments: "Sea lines of communication."  The Strait is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point.  Oman and Iran each claim 12 miles of territorial waters, which (as I understand it) is within the accepted UN standards.  The overlap in the middle is a ready-made source of conflict.  (Twenty percent of the world's oil passes through Hormuz, as well as 1/3 of its liquid natural gas.)

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  • Iran, Oman, and the Strait of Hormuz (Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, USA 06/19/19 5:14 AM)
    Timothy Brown (18 June) wrote that I have made the assumption that the "Strait of Hormuz is 100% legally sovereign Iranian territory right up to the beaches of Oman." How did Tim arrive at this conclusion?

    As JE stated, both Oman and Iran have claims to the territorial waters of Hormuz on each side. One does not have to own the whole strait to impede traffic. I readily provided a link to Iran's claims to Hormuz as outlined by the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Sea).  See Martin Wahlisch, The Yale Journal of International Law, March 2012, citing UNCLOS, supra note 12, art. 19, paragraph 1, and art. 25, paragraph 1.

    If Tim has information that contradicts the law journal, please provide the information.

    That said, international law, territory and sovereignty are meaningless when it comes to the US and specifically the Trump administration. Aside from his US embassy move, he did give the occupied Syrian Golan to Israel, and who knows what he is in the mood of giving away. Trump's violation of international law does not change the reality.

    JE comments:  I'd like to know more about the nuts and bolts of the Hormuz choke point.  The Strait is divided into two "lanes," each two miles wide and divided by a two-mile "median."  That's six miles of traffic.  I presume therefore that it's impossible not to sail through waters considered sovereign by Tehran.  Where exactly was the Japanese tanker when the attack occurred?

    Mariner-in-residence Eugenio Battaglia has said through Hormuz more than anyone in WAISworld.  Eugenio's comment is next.

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    • Territorial Waters and the UN (Timothy Brown, USA 06/20/19 7:36 AM)
      I served in Tel Aviv 1965-67, but didn't deal with rights of the sea. My responsibilities involving territorial rights and freedom of navigation matters at the international level came later when I was doing energy policy and dealt almost daily with questions involving international waters.

      I was never made aware that, in 1982, the UN rewrote the traditional definition of navigation in open seas, 3 miles territorial, 12 miles navigable, with the rest of the world's oceanic waters free. Did they do that just because of the Hormuz, or is that now the rule all over the world?

      But I do still remember from when I was stationed in Tel Aviv that the Golan Heights posed a problem, what with snipers taking potshots at people like us having to sit on the veranda of a restaurant with a bullet-proof roof beside the Galilee because snipers on the Golan above were in the habit of firing at the customers, although that didn't protect farmers on the flats between the Golan and Galilee as they plowed their farms, forced to use armored tractors. Thankfully we were in Spain when the war broke out, and not still there when Jordanian and Israeli artillery fought an artillery duel overhead the house we had lived in.

      JE comments: And since we last checked in, Iran has downed a US drone over Hormuz. Sabers are rattling.  Gavrilo Princip struck in June, too.

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      • Gavrilo Princip and St John's Day (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 06/22/19 3:57 AM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        JE warned on June 20: "Iran has downed a US drone over Hormuz. Sabers are rattling.
        Gavrilo Princip struck in June, too."

        St. Johns Day, June 24, Midsummer's Day at the point of high summer (and adjusted upward
        a bit in the 1914 era on the Serbian calendar), has deep mystical significance in the war myths
        of myth-swarmed Serbia (and others). It was as if the summer of 1914 got too hot for the Old Order
        to contain, and the four horsemen then broke loose and stormed through the rest of the century.
        A star-crossing we don't want to see again.

        JE comments:  In the old (Julian) calendar, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand took place on June 15th (June 28th in the West).  Most of the Orthodox countries switched to the Gregorian calendar during or shortly after the Great War.

        June 28th corresponds rather to St Vitus.  He's not a big deal in most countries, but the Serbs venerate him.  Gary Moore explained this a few years back:


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  • Sailing the Strait of Hormuz (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/19/19 4:12 PM)
    Very informative post from Timothy Brown (18 June).

    I know the Strait of Hormuz and its sea lanes very well, and went many many times through them.

    Originally the territorial waters extended for 6 miles but then it was increased to 12 miles. Therefore, the Strait of Hormuz is completely open to innocent passage, while warships need permission.

    The sea lanes, one for entering and the other for sailing out of the Persian Gulf, are close to the rocks near the coast of Oman, and inside its territorial waters.

    The US does not recognize the theoretical closure of territorial waters up to 12 miles; however if I am not wrong in early 1941 a great democracy officially at peace extended its territorial waters well beyond this limit and then ordered to its Navy on 11 September 1941 to attack and sink any ship considered hostile.

    Therefore following this precedent, the Iranian Navy may attack any ship that it considers not innocent passage in the entire Strait of Hormuz, as this great democracy had done in earlier years.

    By the way the Iranian attacks on tankers of recent days remind me of the Iraq anthrax scare, the Tonkin incident, Pearl Harbor, the USS Maine and so on, but I may be wrong.

    JE comments: Pearl Harbor, Eugenio?  But let's stay on the subject at hand: Did the sea lanes through Hormuz follow the coast of Oman prior to 1979 as well?  Meaning, does the course follow navigational demands or political realities?

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