The Bab el-Mandeb is a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. It is located between Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea, and connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Most exports from the Persian Gulf that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline also pass through the Bab el-Mandeb.
An estimated 3.4 million bbl/d flowed through this waterway in 2011 toward Europe, the United States and Asia, a drop from 4.5 million bbl/d in 2008, but an increase from 2.9 million bbl/d in 2009. Oil shipped through the strait decreased by almost one-third in 2009 as a result of the global economic downturn and the decline in the northbound oil shipments to Europe. Northbound traffic through the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline also reflects the adverse affects of the global economic crisis in 2009 and 2010, when total oil flows through the complex declined significantly, as noted in the previous section. Northbound oil shipments increased through Bab el-Mandeb in 2011 and over half of the traffic, about 2.0 million bbl/d, moved northbound en route to the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline.
The Bab el-Mandeb is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, making tanker traffic difficult and limited to two 2-mile-wide channels for inbound and outbound shipments. Closure of the Strait could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or SUMED Pipeline, diverting them around the Southern tip of Africa, adding to transit time and cost. In addition, closure of the Bab el-Mandeb would mean that oil entering the Red Sea from Sudan and other countries could no longer take the most direct route to Asian markets. This oil would instead have to go north into the Mediterranean Sea through other potential chokepoints, such as the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline.
Security became a concern of foreign firms doing business in the region, after a French tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen by terrorists in October 2002. In recent years, this region has also seen rising piracy, and Somali pirates continue to attack vessels off the northern Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden and southern Red Sea including the Bab el-Mandab.