Gushing out of the earth through narrow pipelines, oil is fated also to travel to its consumers through narrow bottlenecks.
The Strait of Hormuz, just 34 kilometres wide, is the Persian Gulf exit through which supertankers haul away some 17 million barrels of oil daily.
Five thousand kilometres later, at the doorstep of the oil guzzling economies of China, Japan and Indonesia, these giant vessels squeeze through the Malacca Strait, just 3 kilometres wide, leaving behind the Indian Ocean and entering the Pacific.
Global security managers lavish attention on the security of these two bottlenecks, but remain sanguine about the vast expanse of water that connect them: the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea at the mouth of the Malacca Strait.
But this stretch is the bailiwick of the Indian Navy, the only major navy that operates between Qatar - the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command - and the contested and militarised waters of the South China Sea, beyond the Malacca Strait.
Besides keeping a watchful eye over the international shipping lanes that run through the northern Indian Ocean, the Indian Navy is also the gatekeeper of two more choke points near its offshore island chains of Lakshadweep and the Andamans.
All Pacific-bound shipping from the Persian Gulf, or the Red Sea, converges on a 200-km wide funnel called the Nine Degree Channel (named after its latitude) that is straddled by India's Lakshadweep island chain.
Given these islands' strategic control over the shipping lanes, the Kochi-based South-Western Naval Command established a naval base on Lakshadweep in April this year.
Patrol vessels, aircraft and radars on this base, INS Dweeprakshak (INS stands for Indian Naval Ship, a confusing appellation, since the navy uses it for ships as well as shore bases), plays guardian angel to merchant shipping on the international shipping lane that runs through the Ten Degree Channel.
The navy seeks no compensation for keeping pirates at bay, or responding to emergencies. This comes with the turf for a regional power's navy.
And, in the event of a crisis, this positions the navy well for closing the channel to unfriendly shipping, or "enforcing a blockade" in military parlance.
Image: Tourists seen at a beach in Lakshadweep.
Text: Ajai Shukla, Business Standard
Image Courtesy: Lakshadweep tourism