“Frozen” Oil Can Halt Tanker Loading

With Parviz Ajudani, chief of operations for the terminal, I took refuge from the island’s blistering 103-degree heat in the air-conditioned main control room, whose walls were studded with an array of dials.

“Each bank of dials,” he said, “meters the flow to a single tanker, recording not just the rate of delivery but various characteristics of the oil itself, such as temperature and vis¬cosity. With bunker oil, for example, we must always guard against the danger of freezing.”

With the sweat still pouring down me I looked astonished, and Mr. Ajudani smiled. “Not freezing in the sense of turning solid,” he said, “but of becoming too thick to flow properly. Our loading lines run more than a hundred feet beneath the ocean, and the oil becomes chilled even on a 130-degree summer day. To keep it flowing into a ship, we must recirculate it through heating units.”

I learned that nearly a third of Iran’s oil currently goes to Japan, with less than 5 percent exported to the United States. “Between the Persian Gulf and Japan,” Mr. Ajudani said, “there is an endless strand of loaded tankers sailing at 40-mile intervals the entire way. If you are interested in sheer ton¬nage, visit Bandar Abbas—from there you can see the Strait of Hormuz.”Iran's oil currently goes to Japan

The effort was rewarding but costly, for Bandar Abbas is infamous for its summer heat. Seventeenth-century English sailors observed that there was “but an Inch-Deal betwixt [Bandar Abbas] and Hell,” and a traveler noted, “Nothing is left here but a sen¬sible Map of Purgatory.”

Oil Armada Never Ends

As it happened, Bandar Abbas was enjoy¬ing a mild spring, with temperatures ranging only in the high 90’s. During a brief flight aboard an Iranian Navy helicopter over the small strategic island of Abu Musa, I had dramatic proof of Mr. Adjudani’s remarks.

Far below, an endless armada of tankers threaded the narrow throat of the Persian Gulf at the Strait of Hormuz, outbound for world ports. According to my pilot, the rate of passage through the strait averages out to a loaded tanker every 90 minutes, with car¬goes totaling 600,000,000 tons of oil a year.

“They are not only from Iran,” the pilot said of the tankers. “They come from other Persian Gulf states as well—Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia. Like us, those coun¬tries depend on oil for a living, and the only way we can earn it is through the gulf.”

To safeguard the vital passageway, Iran occasionally takes drastic steps, such as armed assistance to neighboring Oman in its bitter civil war, and the seizure of vital Abu Musa near the Strait of Hormuz. Beyond the gulf it¬self, Iran is completing a huge air and naval base at Chah Bahar, near the Pakistan bor¬der, to anchor her Indian Ocean defenses.