Maritime boundary: don’t get confused

Sheikh Shahriar Zaman

Sheikh Shahriar Zaman

One must not interpret it that Bangladesh lost area to Myanmar. One must understand, an international court will always protect the interest of all parties and gives a win-win verdict to uphold its credibility.

Bangladesh has established its sovereign rights over the natural resources in the eastern part of the Bay of Bengal after the historic verdict at the International Tribunal for Law of the Seas (ITLOS) on Mar 14. The verdict also settled maritime boundary dispute with Myanmar that was unresolved for the last 38 years. Bangladesh has got the rights over an area of 111,000 square kilometers and it will pave the way for energy-starved Bangladesh’s exploration for petroleum and natural gas in the Bay of Bengal, long delayed by conflicting boundary claims.

Achievements

The biggest and most important achievement for Bangladesh is it has received a verdict to delimit its boundary. For the last 38 years, Bangladesh was unable to utilize the area as it was disputed. Even in 2008, when Petrobangla wanted to award 20 deep sea blocks for exploration, it could only manage to award two blocks partially. The court following equitable solution under equidistance method awarded the area resulted in some of the disputed blocks fell in Bangladesh area and some in Myanmar area. One must not interpret it that Bangladesh lost area to Myanmar. One must understand, an international court will always protect the interest of all parties and gives a win-win verdict to uphold its credibility. If any country, say for example Bangladesh, feels that its interest will not be protected, it will never resort to that court. And it is also true for Myanmar.

The second achievement is Bangladesh can now explore its mineral resources in the dispute free area.

Bay of Bengal is full of resources but Bangladesh is yet to tap it over the dispute with the neighbouring countries for the last 38 years. Different species of fish and types of mineral resources can be found in the bay. Minerals include cobalt, manganese, copper, nickel, sulphite can be found on the sea bed while under the sea bed, it is expected that oil and gas can be found.

Bangladesh has started working to re-blocking its deep sea area and will award those for exploration. In 2008, Bangladesh awarded PSC contract of block 10 and 11 to US-based ConocoPhilips. Block 11 had 2,454 square kilometers undisputed area and 445 square kilometers disputed area but now the total area is free. On the other hand in block 10, the undisputed area is 2,700 square kilometers while 1,100 square kilometers disputed with India. Experts believe that after getting the verdict in 2014, the total area will be free.

The third advantage is it will have an impact on the maritime boundary case with India. Bangladesh has also dispute with India in the western side of Bay of Bengal and lodged a case with the Permanent Court on Arbitration based in Hague in 2009 to settle the maritime dispute between the countries. The verdict of the case is expected in 2014 and after that Bangladesh will get a clear picture what mass of territory in the sea is under his sovereign rights.

The fourth advantage is it will help Bangladesh to develop skilled human resources to tap the resources. Under sea exploration requires advanced technology and skilled human resources which Bangladesh lacks. India has already started extracting poly-metallic nodule from its territory while Bangladesh is yet to know if there is it has any valuable mineral stones in its area. Foreign ministry has already discussed the issue with education ministry and later agreed to open oceanography department in Dhaka and Chittagong universities.

The timely decision of the government has allowed Bangladesh to have a territory which is over three fourth of the country but for its proper utilization, human resource development is the only solution.

Verdict

Due to this verdict Bangladesh’s full access to the high seas out to 200 miles and beyond is now recognized and guaranteed, as are our undisputed rights to the fish in the waters and the natural resources beneath our seabed. The ITLOS ruling, by a vote of 21 to 1, brings to a conclusion the case initiated by Bangladesh against Myanmar in December 2009, to resolve a longstanding dispute in regard to the maritime boundary in the oil-and-gas rich Bay.

The court sustained Bangladesh’s claims to a full 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal, and to a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond 200 miles.


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