Major Chokepoints of the World

Strait Of Gilbraltar With Africa In The Background; Tarifa Cadiz Andalusia Spain
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There are approximately 200 straits (narrow bodies of water connecting two larger bodies of water) or canals around the world but only a handful are known as chokepoints. A chokepoint is a strategic strait or canal which could be closed or blocked to stop sea traffic (especially oil). This type of aggression could surely cause an international incident.

For centuries, straits such as Gibraltar have been protected by international law as points through which all nations may pass. In 1982 the Law of Sea Conventions further protected the international access for nations to sail through straits and canals and even ensured that these passageways are available as aviation routes for all nations.


This strait between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean has the United Kingdom's tiny Gibraltar Colony as well as Spain on the north and Morocco and a small Spanish colony on the south. United States warplanes were forced to fly over the strait (as protected by the 1982 conferences) when attacking Libya in 1986 since France would not allow the U.S. to pass through French airspace.

Several times in our planet's history, Gibraltar was blocked by geologic activity and water could not flow between the Mediterranean and Atlantic so the Mediterranean dried up. Layers of salt at the bottom of the sea attest to this having occurred.

Panama Canal

Completed in 1914, the 50-mile long Panama Canal links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, reducing the length of the journey between the east and west coasts of the United States by 8000 nautical miles. About 12,000 ships pass through the Central American canal each year. The United States retains control of the 10-mile wide Canal Zone until the year 2000 when the canal is turned over to the Panamanian government.

Strait of Magellan

Before the Panama Canal was completed, boats traveling between the U.S. coasts were forced to round the tip of South America. Many travelers risked disease and death by attempting to cross the dangerous isthmus in Central America and catch another boat to their destination to keep from sailing the extra 8000 miles. During the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century there were many regular trips between the east coast and San Francisco. The Strait of Magellan lies just north of the southern tip of South America and is surrounded by Chile and Argentina.

Strait of Malacca

Located in the Indian Ocean, this strait is a shortcut for oil tankers traveling between the Middle East and the oil-dependent nations of the Pacific Rim (especially Japan). Tankers pass through this strait bordered by Indonesia and Malaysia.

Bosporus and Dardanelles

Bottlenecks between the Black Sea (Ukrainian ports) and the Mediterranean Sea, these chokepoints are surrounded by Turkey. The Turkish city of Istanbul is adjacent to the Bosporus in the northeast and the southeast strait is the Dardanelles.

Suez Canal

The 103 mile long Suez Canal is located entirely within Egypt and it is the only sea route between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. With Middle East tension, the Suez Canal is a prime target for many nations. The canal was completed in 1869 by French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps. The British took control of the canal and Egypt from 1882 until 1922. Egypt nationalized the canal in 1956. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel seized control of the Sinai Desert directly east of the canal but relinquished control in exchange for peace.

Strait of Hormuz

This chokepoint became a household term during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The Strait of Hormuz is another critical point in the lifeline flow of oil from the Persian Gulf area. This strait is closely monitored by the U.S. military and its allies. The strait connects the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean) and is surrounded by Iran, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

Bab el Mandeb

Located between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, the Bab el Mandeb is a bottleneck for sea traffic between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. It is surrounded by Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Major Chokepoints of the World." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). Major Chokepoints of the World. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Major Chokepoints of the World." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).