Gulf of Aden

The Gulf of Aden, formerly known as the Gulf of Berbera, is a deepwater gulf amidst Yemen to the north, the Arabian Sea to the east, Djibouti to the west, and the Guardafui Channel, Socotra (Yemen) and Somalia to the south.[1] In the northwest, it connects with the Red Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and in the southeast, it connects with the Indian Ocean through the Guardafui Channel.[2][3] To the west, it narrows into the Gulf of Tadjoura, in the Horn of Africa. The Gulf of Aden separates the Arabian peninsula with the Horn of Africa.

Gulf of Aden
Satellite image of the Gulf of Aden
Map of the Gulf of Aden
LocationArabian Sea
Coordinates12°N 48°E
Average depth500 m (1,600 ft)
Max. depth2,700 m (8,900 ft)
Max. temperature28 °C (82 °F)
Min. temperature15 °C (59 °F)
SettlementsAden, Djibouti (city)

The ancient Greeks regarded the gulf was one of the most important parts of the Erythraean Sea. It later came to be dominated by Muslim conquerors, as the area around the gulf converted to Islam. In the late 1960s, the British military withdrawal of the Suez Canal led to an increased Soviet naval presence in the gulf area. The importance of the Gulf of Aden declined when the Suez Canal was closed, but it was revitalized when the canal was reopened in 1975, after being deepened and widened by Egypt.

The Gulf of Aden is integral to the petroleum industry due to the delivery of Persian Gulf oil. The waterway is part of the important Suez Canal shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean, with 21,000 ships crossing the gulf annually.[4] This route is often used for the delivery of Persian Gulf oil, making the gulf an integral waterway in the world economy.[5][6] Important cities along the Gulf of Aden include the namesake Aden in Yemen and the city of Djibouti.

Despite a lack of large-scale commercial fishing facilities, the coastline supports many isolated fishing towns and villages. The Gulf of Aden is richly supplied with fish, turtles, and lobsters.[7] Local fishing takes place close to the shore; sardines, tuna, kingfish, and mackerel make up the bulk of the annual catches. Crayfish and sharks are also fished locally.


In antiquity, the gulf was one of the most important parts of the Erythraean Sea of ancient Greek geography. The Greeks named several islands within the gulf, including Stratonis Insula, although it is no longer clear which existing islands had which Greek names.[8][9]

In Abu'l-Fida's, A Sketch of the Countries (Arabic: تقويم البلدان), the present-day Gulf of Aden was called the Gulf of Berbera, which shows how important Berbera was in both regional and international trade during the medieval period.[10]

The British initially recognized the sea as the Gulf of Berbera (Somali: Gacanka Berbera), after the principal port of its southern coast.[11][12]

Its present name (Arabic: خليج عدن, Ḫalīǧ ʻAdan) derives from the importance of the former British Crown Colony of Aden on its northern coast, now part of Yemen.

The gulf is also known to the Somalis as the Gacanka Cadmeed.



The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Gulf of Aden as follows:[13]

On the Northwest – The southern limit of the Red Sea [A line joining Husn Murad (12°40′N 43°30′E) and Ras Siyyan (12°29′N 43°20′E)].
On the Northwest – The eastern limit of the Gulf of Tadjoura (A line joining Obock and Lawyacado).
On the East – The meridian of Cape Guardafui (Ras Asir, 51°16'E).


The temperature of the Gulf of Aden varies between 15 °C (59 °F) and 28 °C (82 °F), depending on the season and the appearance of monsoons. The salinity of the gulf at 10 metres (33 ft) depth varies from 35.3 along the eastern Somali coast to as high as 37.3 ‰ in the gulf's center,[14] while the oxygen content in the Gulf of Aden at the same depth is typically between 4.0 and 5.0 mg/L.[14]


The Gulf of Aden is a vital waterway for shipping, especially for Persian Gulf oil, making it an integral waterway in the world economy.[5] Approximately 11% of the world's seaborne petroleum passes through the Gulf of Aden on its way to the Suez Canal or to regional refineries.[6] The main ports along the gulf are Aden, Balhaf, Bir Ali, Mukalla, and Shokra in Yemen; Djibouti City in Djibouti; Zeila, Berbera, Maydh, and Las Khorey and Bosaso in Somalia.

In antiquity, the gulf was a thriving area of international trade between Ptolemaic Egypt and Rome in the west and Classical India, its Indonesian colonies, and Han China in the east. It was not limited to transshipment, as Yemeni and Somali incense, tortoiseshell, and other goods were in high demand in both directions. After Egyptian sailors discovered the monsoon winds and began to trade directly with India, caravan routes and their associated kingdoms began to collapse, leading to a rise in piracy in the area. The 1st-century Periplus of the Erythraean Sea documents one Egyptian captain's experiences during this era.

After the collapse of the Roman economy, direct trade ceased but the Awsani port Crater, located just south of the modern city of Aden, remained an important regional center. In late antiquity and the early medieval period, there were several invasions of Yemen from Ethiopia; after the rise of Islam, the gulf permitted repeated invasions of northwest Africa by Arab settlers.

In the late 2000s, the gulf evolved into a hub of pirate activity. By 2013, attacks in the waters had steadily declined due to active private security and international navy patrols.[15] India receives USD 50 billion in imports and sends USD 60 billion in exports through this area annually. Due to this, and for the sake of protecting the trade of other countries, India keeps a warship escort in this area.[16]


A geologically young body of water, the Gulf of Aden has a unique biodiversity that contains many varieties of fish, coral, seabirds and invertebrates. This rich ecological diversity has benefited from a relative lack of pollution during the history of human habitation around the gulf. However, environmental groups fear that the lack of a coordinated effort to control pollution may jeopardize the gulf's ecosphere.[17] Whales, dolphins, and dugongs[18] were once common[19] before being severely reduced by commercial hunts, including by mass illegal hunts by Soviet Union and Japan in 1960s to 70s.[20] Critically endangered Arabian humpback whales were once seen in large numbers,[21] but only a few large whales still appear in the gulf waters, including Bryde's whales,[22] blue whales,[23] and toothed whales inhabiting deep-seas such as sperm whales[24] and tropical bottlenose whales.[25]

See also


Space Station photograph of the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa


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  2. Schott, Friedrich, et al. "Summer monsoon response of the northern Somali Current, 1995." Geophysical Research Letters 24.21 (1997): 2565-2568.
  3. Findlater, J. "Observational aspects of the low-level cross-equatorial jet stream of the western Indian Ocean." Monsoon Dynamics. Birkhäuser, Basel, 1978. 1251-1262.
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  9. Strabo's discussion of the matter
  10. Identifiants et Référentiels Sudoc Pour L'Enseignement Supérieur et la Recherche - Abū al-Fidā (1273-1331) (in French)
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