Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) inaugurated an overland oil pipeline that bypasses the Strait of Hormuz. One fifth of the world's traded oil transits through the strait, which is under Iran's control.
Experts say that Abu Dhabi's move is a response to Tehran's threats to block the strait. The 380-km pipeline stretches from Abu Dhabi to the neighbouring sheikhdom of Fujairah on the Gulf of Oman. It is designed to carry at least 1.5 million barrels a day of crude, though capacity is expected to eventually rise to 1.8 million barrels daily. The first shipment of 500,000 barrels went to a Pakistani refinery.
Iran angrily criticised the move. An Iranian lawmaker, Mohammad-Hassan Asferi, said the pipeline's limited capacity would keep it from obviating the need of regional suppliers to export most of their oil through the strait.
He dismissed the project as "propaganda and political manoeuvring guided by the Western countries, especially the United States, which aims to reduce the strategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz".
International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) spent US$ 4.2 billion to build the pipeline, IPIC managing director Khadem Al-Qubaisi said. IPIC plans to build a refinery in Fujairah with a capacity of about 250,000 barrels a day to produce for local sale and export.
UAE Oil Minister Mohamed Bin Dhaen Al-Hamli said the pipeline will allow oil companies to fill very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, the largest class of tanker capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil. Filling such vessels in the Gulf of Oman will reduce shipping traffic in Hormuz, where only tankers that can carry 1 million barrels are allowed.
The UAE is the fifth-biggest oil producer in OPEC. With Oman, it is also the only Persian Gulf state with direct access to the Indian Ocean.
In the past few months, tensions between Iran, Gulf States and the United States have risen. Tehran controls a section of the Strait of Hormuz, and has threatened to block it on several occasions in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States to punish Tehran for its nuclear programme.
Iranian and US naval vessels continue to patrol the body of water.