Maritime straits and canals are an important consideration in the shipping industry, because these narrow channels experience the highest levels of traffic due to their strategic location. It is through these passages that cargo ships must go through in order to reach their desired destination, which is why these choke-points are so essential to maritime travel and commerce. At the same time, straits and canals are also especially vulnerable to international security breaches and terrorist threats — which can effectively endanger maritime trade and industry due to their strategic positions.
During instances of global insecurity or political unrest, oil freighters may be advised to avoid some straits and canals, especially since the cargo ships are carrying a valuable and dwindling resource. However, this can be highly impractical since taking an alternate route can take much longer and may not be feasible due to geography, weather patterns, and distance.
Important straits and canals are located throughout the world, which include:
- The Turkish Strait, which links the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea
- The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea
- The Strait of Malacca, which links the Pacific to the Indian Ocean – between Peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
- The Strait of Hormuz, which is the only sea passage for the Persian Gulf
- The Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden on the East coast of Africa
- The Panama Canal, which bridges the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean
- The Danish Straits that connect the Baltic Sea to the North Sea
Because these straits and canals occupy strategic positions in maritime trade routes, it’s easy to see why these pathways attract so much geo-political conflict. Countries have been fighting for control of these important trade routes since the beginning of recorded history, which only increases the value and danger of shipping choke-points. Pirates may also choose to target these straits and canals, since cargo carrying ships must go through these passageways before reaching their final destination.
Coming up with alternate maritime trade routes that eliminate traditional straits and canals is not easy, and is impossible in certain cases due to geographic location. For instance, ships looking to transport oil from the Middle East can’t avoid using the Gulf of Hormuz, since it’s the only sea passage for the Persian Gulf.
It has been suggested that a better solution would be for the United States or the European Union to flex their naval supremacy by patrolling these straits and canals, which would ensure the safety of all the ships passing through. However, this would require a commitment to continuously provide the necessary resources and manpower to combat relentless piracy and terrorist threats. Whether the United States or the European Union is willing to take the initiative to ensure maritime peace remains to be seen.