Theories of Urbanism, Landscape and Ecology

Following Flows:

Pressure Point: Reclamation Through Intercepted Maritime Economies of Bab-el Mandeb

Final Project Presented at DES-3241 | Theories of Urbanism, Landscape and Ecology | Fall 2013

Cartographic Composite

Under the Instruction of Pierre Bélanger, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Co-Director of the Master of Design Studies, Area Co-Coordinator of the Urbanism, Landscape and Ecology Concentration | Harvard University Graduate School of Design

In Collaboration with Yoonjee Koh, BArch '13, MArch II '15, MDes '16

Narrated by: Leif Estrada

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi, "Fly"

The international route of oil exportation originates from Hormuz and disperses to Oceania, South America, North America, Europe, Asia and so on. These routes also pass through what are known as chokepoints, including Malacca in Southeast Asia, the Suez Canal, which links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and Bab-el Mandeb.

The Bab-el Mandeb Strait is an infrastructural chokepoint. Situated on one of the world’s major oil routes between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden along the East African Coast, the Bab-el Mandeb Strait’s narrow passage off the coast of Somalia and Yemen situates itself on one of the world’s most critical marine transportation lines. Bordering other countries like Eritrea and Djibouti, the Strait serves as a geographical link between the Middle East and Europe. The waters between Somalia and Yemen are a major artery, used by approximately 20,000 vessels a year. The Strait sees 3.3 Million barrels (520,000m3) of oil transport out of a world total of 43 million barrels per day, about 8 percent of the world’s oil transport. Of the 3.3 million barrels of oil, the United States consumes about 25 percent daily.

The strait’s name Bab-el Mandeb originates in Arabic, meaning “Gate of Grief,” and historically, served as a land bridge for the great exodus out of Africa more than 60,000 years ago. Projectively, the Middle East Development LLC has approved a bridge project to connect Yemen and Djibouti—the same historical geographic site of the land bridge, proposed by a company owned by Tarek bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s half-brother. This project has sparked questions of oil flow, its effect and affect on piracy, and the greater global economy and politics.

The Strait is one of the world’s highest pirated water bodies. Piracy off the coast of Somalia accounts for a significant number of the pirate attacks globally recorded. Of the 439 piracy attacks worldwide in 2011, more than half were attributed to the Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden, and in the Red Sea. Despite a sharp decline of pirate attacks reported worldwide due to international naval efforts, Somali piracy persists to expand its zone of attack across the Gulf of Aden. Using hijacked vessels as “mother ships,” pirates attack as far as 1,000 miles off the coast. The area of attack has been consistently increasing, expanding from the Bab-el Mandeb to the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Gulf of Oman to the Arabian Sea and Somali Basin, threatening all shipping routes in the North West Indian Ocean.

Oil has been the main currency for Somali piracy. The fall of the Somali government in 1991 has left the country without a civil defense and a coast guard that watches over its seas. Immediately after the fall of President Siyad Barre and the consequent disintegration of the naval forces, Somali’s 2000-mile coastlines have attracted fishing fleets from around the world. Illegally plundering the country’s lucrative species of seafood, not found in other waters including the Persian Gulf, which is adjacent to the coastline region of Saudi Arabia. Besides, illegal fishing, Somali also became a victim to hazardous waste dumping, further crippling the local fishing economy with a moratorium on international fish exportation. Without a lucrative economy and the United Nation’s lack of response to protect Somalia’s coastlines, the fishermen of Somalia resorted to piracy. In comparison to Saudi Arabia’s oil production GDP of 52%, Somalia’s oil production GDP is barely a 0.01%. It is no doubt that some government officials are behind the piracy attacks on oil vessels (according to Reuters).

In 2008, Somali pirates seized the Sirus Star, a Saudi oil tanker as large as the US Navy’s super carrier, worth over $150 million (in the current oil economy) in the Bab-el Mandeb strait. That is 60% of the barrels that pass through Bab-el Mandeb Strait on a daily basis. With the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia leading the region in oil production and exportation, it is no doubt the highest in gross domestic product (GDP) value within the region with a proportional percentage on piracy attacks.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a global maritime watchdog, estimated that West African countries lost nearly over $1 billion in oil due to piracy. The region has emerged as a piracy hotspot, evidenced by the increase in oil vessel hijacks off the Red Sea coast.