Why Is The Gate Of Tears Important?

Published: 08th April 2011
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The Gate of Tears is a Strait in a political hotspot - the Red Sea. The Strait is a narrow chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Smaller ships do not therefore need to make the much longer trip around South Africa. An important percentage of the world's trade passes through the Strait, which has Djibouti and Eritrea on one side and Yemen on the other, with Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia nearby. Several million barrels of crude oil pass through this narrow constriction every day .

The Gate of Tears, called in Arabic Bab al Mandeb (there are various spellings) has been a focus of trade for many centuries. The name is said to originate from the navigational difficulties and the lives that have been lost there over many centuries; an alternative legend holds that it was named following the mass deaths when the catastrophic earthquake that split Africa from Asia occurred. An alternative English name, The Gates of Grief is also used.

The Strait is almost twenty miles in width, and divided in two by Perim Island (also known as Mayyun), a volcanic rock 65 m high which belongs now to Yemen. In the near geological past, eruptions from Perim are thought to have blocked this entrance to the Red Sea and led to it drying up many times. The Biblical stories are intriguing in this context.

Bab el Mandeb comprises two channels - the eastern channel, Alexander's Channel (Bab Iskander), is approximately 2 miles wide and 30 metres deep. The western channel, Dact el Mayyun, is more than 15 miles wide and 310 metres deep. However, the largest oil tankers are restricted to traffic lanes 2 miles wide as part of the Traffic Separation Scheme in the Dact el Mayyun.

The strategic importance of the Gate of Tears has increased since Saudi Arabia built an East-West oil pipeline. This was done so that Saudi oil could be exported through the Red Sea, decreasing the importance of the Straits of Hormuz (which are only 2 miles wide), at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Any closure - physical or military - of the Gate of Tears would lead to oil exports being carried only via suezmax tankers which could pass through the Suez canal; there is also an oil pipeline known as 'Sumed', to the Mediterranean.

The Strait also has significance reaching back to the origins of man himself. The current Recent Single Origin Hypothesis proposes that earliest anatomically modern man (that's us) migrated across the Strait from their place of origin in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, some 60,000 years ago.

The Strait also has religious significance, with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church believing that early semitic language migrated into Africa across the Strait.

Recently, a company controlled by Tarek Bin Laden has put forward a plan to build a bridge across the Strait, linking Yemen and Djibouti. It would count as one the world's longest suspension bridges. The name proposed is 'The Bridge of Horns'.


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Find out more about the novel 'Gate of Tears' - intriguing futuristic blend of piracy, terrorism, gold fever, geopolitics and naval confrontation and visit www.jamesmarinero.com .

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