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Strait Of Hormuz: Scene Of Human Conflict And Natural Beauty


The narrow Strait of Hormuz is the shipping choke point where tensions between the United States and Iran are playing out right now. The waterway is this corridor for both trade and smuggling, but it also serves as a route for dolphins. NPR's Ruth Sherlock recently visited the Strait of Hormuz and sent us this postcard.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: I'm on a dhow, an old dhow boat in the Strait of Hormuz. This is one of the most important oil routes in the world, and it's also beautiful. There's turquoise green waters that come up against the hills of the Omani coastline. Cormorants fly over the water. Being here is an incongruous experience. To my right are the oil tankers that the world is so concerned about, and to my left are tourist boats that are slowly moving through the water, as tourists lean over the edge to try to spot dolphins.

UNIDENTIFIED SHIP CAPTAIN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: The captain of our ship is a veteran of these waters. He doesn't want to use his name because his tour company didn't give him permission to talk to the press and possibly because, for years, he's ferried goods in a semilegal business from the northernmost tip of Oman to Iran, which is just 21 miles away. That's less than an hour's sailing in a fast boat.

UNIDENTIFIED SHIP CAPTAIN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: My colleague Lama al-Arian interprets.

UNIDENTIFIED SHIP CAPTAIN: (Through interpreter) Our relationship with Iran has been going on since the '80s. Like, we've had really, really regular trade between the two countries. Boats are going back and forth. Of course, we know that they're - like the - there was U.S. sanctions previously, and trade was still going on. Now the U.S. sanctions have increased, but trade is still going on, and it's very strong between the two countries.

SHERLOCK: That trade is obvious to anyone on the water. Though it's been semiregularized by the Omani government, which allows it, it's considered smuggling on the Iran side. Most of the goods come from Dubai, just a few hours' drive away. It's been going on for decades and has increased in times of Western sanctions on Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED SHIP CAPTAIN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: Our captain tells us about the products that get loaded on the boats to Iran - televisions, computers, even cars. And then the vessels come back filled with vegetables, fish, livestock, even goats by the thousands. Some are then sent to other countries. It's a busy business. Motorboats speed across the narrow strip.

UNIDENTIFIED SHIP CAPTAIN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: These days, the captain tells us, he's given this up in favor of the tourist industry that also thrives here. We speak as he steers the boat we've hired.

UNIDENTIFIED SHIP CAPTAIN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: He does worry about the future security of this area. This is an essential route for much of the world's oil supply. That's clear by the heavy traffic of tankers we see on the water. He says locals fear that a U.S. proposal for a maritime security coalition to protect these ships could actually lead to an Iranian escalation.

UNIDENTIFIED SHIP CAPTAIN: (Through interpreter) So if America wants to come here, we would be against this as people who live in Musandam (ph) because Iran wouldn't leave us alone.

SHERLOCK: He worries that a fight between Iran and the U.S. would put everything else on the water in danger. For now, things still seem mostly peaceful. As if to mark the point, during our trip, a pod of dolphins leaps joyously alongside our boat.

Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Strait of Hormuz.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.