This battered harbor town on Sri Lanka’s southern tip, with its scrawny men selling even scrawnier fish, seems an unlikely focus for an emerging international competition over energy supply routes that fuel much of the global economy.
An impoverished place still recovering from the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hambantota has a desolate air, a sense of nowhereness, punctuated by the realization that looking south over the expanse of ocean, the next landfall is Antarctica.
But just over the horizon runs one of the world’s great trade arteries, the shipping lanes where thousands of vessels carry oil from the Middle East and raw materials to Asia, returning with television sets, toys and sneakers for European consumers.
These tankers provide 80 percent of China’s oil and 65 percent of India’s — fuel desperately needed for the two countries’ rapidly growing economies. Japan, too, is almost totally dependent on energy supplies shipped through the Indian Ocean.