The Bangladesh-Myanmar maritime boundary dispute



On the 1st of November four drilling ships from Myanmar started exploration for oil and gas reserves within 50 nautical miles south west of St. Martins Island, in Bangladesh. A South Korean company was awarded the oil and gas exploration contract in that place and two Myanmar naval ships escorted the drilling ships. Three naval ships of Bangladesh went to challenge them but the Myanmar Navy responded by alleging that the Bangladesh Navy ships are trespassing.

This escalated the maritime boundary disputes between Bangladesh and Mayanmar. Mayanmar vowed to continue with the exploration despite the territorial dispute with Bangladesh. Bangladesh Government warned the Myanmar envoy in Bangladesh to immediately suspend all activities within the declared maritime zones of Bangladesh in accordance with the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974 of Bangladesh and sent a high level delegation to Myanmar.

Adding fuel to the fire four Bangladeshi woodcutters were shot dead by the Burmese Nasaka (border force) alleging trespassing into Burmese territory.

But what is the background of this dispute? The Bay of Bengal has become a lucrative territory for the adjacent countries especially after India’s discovery of 100 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2005-06 and Burma’s discovery of 7 trillion cubic feet of gas. India also discovered oil.

None of the countries in this region so far claimed their marine boundaries before the United Nations (UN). India and Myanmar agreed territory between themselves but they need to solve the maritime boundary issues with Bangladesh as they are set to file their claim to the United Nations on June 29 and May 21, 2009, respectively. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Bangladesh too has to file its claim within July 27, 2011.

Bangladesh claimed in 2006 that Burma had encroached 18,000 square kilometers into Bangladesh waters and floated gas exploration tenders. The first round of talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh was in April this year but ended inconclusively in Dhaka. Both the sides then agreed to continue with the dialogue to reach a conclusion and meanwhile refrain from intruding into the disputed area for exploration.

Bangladesh has so far refrained from energy exploration in disputed waters. But Myanmar did not. So the country has the right to protect its sovereignty and has demanded the Burmese ships withdraw until a maritime boundary can be established through talks.

The Guardian reports:

The senior official from Burma’s foreign ministry told Reuters: “We have no reason to stop the exploration activities since these blocks are located in our exclusive economic zone. We will go ahead with it.”

Only a couple of months ago the Vice Chairman of Myanmar Ruling Government during his visit assured Bangladesh that Myanmar will not embark on any drilling in disputed areas of Bay of Bengal and will resolve the boundary dispute through bilateral discussions as per UN guideline. Bangladesh also pressed for early finalization of the demarcation. The next meeting between the parties is due in November 16-17th. Now why Myanmar is going into the offensive?

According to the Law of the Sea, Bangladesh can claims 12 nautical miles of territorial sea, 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone, and 350 nautical miles of continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal and so does Myanmar.

India/Myanmar claim:

Bangladesh claim:

Images courtesy India Speaks

The main dispute on maritime boundary delimitation between Bangladesh and Myanmar centres around Bangladeshi views to demarcate in equity basis North to South while Myanmar wants it for eco–distance system in East to West boundary.

The issue is not so simple as there are many legal issues and international negotiations at stake. A famous case ruling by International Court of Justice on ‘North Sea Continental Shelf’ concerning maritime boundaries Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark, Federal Republic of Germany and Netherlands describes the equity method (Page 7):

(1) delimitation is to be effected by agreement in accordance with equitable principles, and taking account of all the relevant circumstances, in such a way as to leave as much as possible to each Party all those parts of the continental shelf that constitute a natural prolongation of its land territory into and under the sea, without encroachment on the natural prolongation of the land territory of the other;

Barrister Harunur Rashid has a legal view of Bangladesh’s claims.

Engr. Khondkar Abdus Saleque writes in Energy Bangla


If we fail to stop aggression of neighbours to encroach our maritime boundary through proper diplomatic initiatives we must take resort to UN Convention and move to international court of justice to resolve maritime dispute. We can not afford to compromise our sovereign right on resources. [..]

For several months Bangladesh is discussing with Myanmar ruling junta for bilateral cooperation. Trade, energy, communication came under discussions. (But) Bangladesh did not make strong enough protests when ruling junta unleashed cruel actions against freedom loving Myanmar people were struggling for democratic rights.

In this situation it will not be unwise to consider Myanmar unilateral action as a fragrant violation of Bangladesh’s territorial integrity. If we fail to get the required response Bangladesh government must leave nothing unturned to protect our territorial integrity.

Myanmar earned $2.6bn from selling gas last year and these revues keep the country protected from western sanctions.

According to latest reports Myanmar stopped oil and gas exploration in deep-sea blocks in disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal on Thursday, a day after Bangladesh asked China for help over the row. But they are yet to remove vessels and equipment from Bangladesh territory.

Energy Bangla discusses Bangladesh’s unresolved maritime boundary dispute with India. India is alleged to have encroached 19,000 square kilometers into Bangladesh waters. India Speaks defends the case for India:

India and Bangladesh started their bilateral talks way back in 1974, which was inconclusive. India was looking for equidistant border where Bangladesh was for equity based boundary. The same difference in arguments rendered Bangladesh-Myanmar talks inconclusive as well. But, India and Myanmar (opposite States) agreed upon equidistant boundary.

It cannot be denied that Bangladesh is now exposed to international oil and gas politics. We will see more such conflicts between India and Myanmar before 2011 when the maritime boundary is scheduled to be fixed by UN. The government should give more focus to the demarcation issue and employ proper experts and resources to bolster Bangladesh’s case.

A Daily Star editorial says:

It is important that we make persistent and determined efforts to protect our interests. Bangladesh cannot afford to lose in the bargain for its legitimate share of the oil and gas rich Bay, which will only weaken our case for retaining the territorial waters that belong to us as per international laws.

406 Responses to “The Bangladesh-Myanmar maritime boundary dispute”

  1. Author Image

    Khondkar Abdus Saleque

    Bangladesh is suffering from serious energy crisis – gas shortage. The secruity of supply in national gas grid has become extremely vulnerable. For the last several years gas increased at the rate of 8% annually. But Petrobangla did not take initiative toexpand gas resource or increase production to meet gas demand. The deficit increased progressively and arrives at this present situation. It is not that we o not have resources. Our frontiers both in offshore and offshore is unexplored. Extensive areas in onshore and entire offshore- deep water of the Bay of Bengal have not been explored at all. Bangladesh also did not take any further attempt after Bangabandhu led Awami League Government in 1970s to explore in the prospective deep water of the Bay of Bengal.
    India and Myanmar which entered gas exploration much later than us carried out extensive exploration in areas adjacent to our territorial water .Both discovered several large gas and oil structures. As Bangladesh i not delimit its maritime boundary India and Myanmar reportedly included areas of Bangladesh maritime zone within their exploration blocks.
    In 2005 while working as Director (Operation) GTCL in Bangladeshi represented Bangladesh in the tri Nation Gas Pipeline Development Technical Committee Meeting at Yangoon. At that time I felt that the Rakhaine area adjacent to our Technaf offshore is very rich in hydrocarbon resources. The author wondered why Bangladesh did not carry out any explorations in own water. I also felt that Myanmar and India possibly encroached Bangladesh territory. Since 2005 wrote several times wrote several write ups in the Energy Power magazine of Bangladesh to take appropriate actions for delimitation of maritime boundary, carry out extensive geological survey an carry out exploration.
    Bangladesh did engage with Myanmar on several occasions to discuss many issues including gas import an boundary delimitation.
    After all these wonder how this incident took place. Why our Diplomats in Myanmar could not force these? What our smart foreign advisor did?
    Bangladesh must now seriously engage with Myanmar and later with India to settle Maritime Boundary . There may be few structures which may overlap two neighbouring territory. For these we may go for Joint Development. But Bangladesh must not let India or Myanmar to explore in our own territory under any circumstance.
    If issues are not resolve through discussions we must refer this to international forum and if required to International Court of Justice.

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    Abdul Khaleque

    I think we need to find out what this unconstitutional government has been doing for the last two years signing PSCs with foreign oil companies hastily while our maritime boundary has not been drawn out yet.

    Fakruddin was seen on TV receiving Burmese military junta’s number two at ZIA violating diplomatic norms. Why was he so keen so please the rulers there?

    The next elected government should look into the dubious dealings of this undemocratic government and scrap all unauthorized deals signed at the instruction of foreign countries. It is alleged that this government was brought in by foreign powers to give out the oil and gas blocks in the extremely rich Bay of Bengal to companies like Chevron and Mobil without protecting Bangladesh`s national interests.

    The suspicious circumstances under which the PSCs were doled out has brought us to brink of a war. The agents of change are already busy negotiating for lucrative international jobs abroad to escape the wrath of the common people who are surely to question the ulterior motive of this unelected junta imposed by the UN, donor agencies and US and UK.

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    Khondkar Abdus Saleque

    Myanmar, the only next door neighbour of Bangladesh other than India let the drilling rig carrying South Korean Company Daewoo Ships mobilise under Escot of naval ships in disputed water of the Bay of Bengal in a show of strength. Bangladesh responded with moving their won ships and challenging Myanmar action. Bangladesh also convened Myanmar envoy in Dhaka twice and officially handed strong protest letters against what it felt violation of Bangladesh sovereign right on its maritime boundary without instigation. Bangladesh also brought this to the attention of Chinese authority and requested them to exert influence on Myanmar Military Junta which depends almost exclusively on China in confronting USA and EU diplomatic challenge of their continued human right violation. Bangladesh also took up with Korean Government to persuade its company in refraining from exploration activities in disputed areas. A high powered Bangladesh team led my Foreign Secretary was also despatched to Yangoon to discuss the matter with Myanmar authority to diffuse tension and continue ongoing process of resolving issues through peaceful means.

    Press reports indicate that Myanmar has withdrawn the war ships and exploration rigs although the meeting of Bangladesh foreign secretary in Yangoon reportedly failed to reach meeting of minds on the contentious issue. This has happened at a time when Bangladesh is suffering from serious energy crisis primarily due to gas supply impediments. Bangladesh is also going for long awaited national election. Moreover second highest leader of Myanmar ruling junta in the recent visit assured Bangladesh government categorically to refrain from drilling in the disputed areas of the Bay of Bengal till issues involved in it are amicably settled through mutual discussion. Further meetings on the issue is due middle of this month in Dhaka. What led Myanmar Government to test the nerves of Bangladesh at this very critical stage? Why the assurance of a power junta leader was broken like this? Observers refuse to rule out possibility similar situation to take place at disputed maritime regions of India and Myanmar. Is it a ploy to divert Bangladesh attention elsewhere during election?

    Bangladesh government has also delayed approval of engagement of International Oil Companies for fossil fuel exploration in the Bay of Bengal. India and Myanmar are in much advanced stage in exploration. They have not only engaged IOCs but also discovered several petroleum structures. Bangladesh hibernated and could only initiate positive actions towards the last days of 4party led alliance government when Engr. Mahmudur Rahman as Advisor to Prime Minister Kahleda Zia declared this as one of his priority. He tried his level best within his limited time in the office to develop, fine tune and let out bidding. He also formally protested Indian unilateral actions to lease out some blocks encroaching Bangladesh territorial water. But due to bureaucratic tangles Mahmud failed to announce bidding in his period but n made significant advancement. One of the rare achievements of this Care Taker Government in the wake of serious energy crisis and particularly gas draught in the South Eastern region of Bangladesh was to approve the PSC document, let out tender and complete evaluation of tenders. The document itself was prepared by line professionals and subsequently scanned by international expert and Dr.Kamal Hussein the formulator of mother document in 1974. The document stayed and still stays on various website for opinion.
    Following approval of PSC document Petrobangla steeped into formal bidding process, staged a road show at Dhaka. Petrobangla received limited tenders in the face of hostile propaganda and objections of Myanmar and Indian authority. High powered interministrial committee carried out detailed evaluation in a very transparent manner and prepared recommendations for w award. EMRD reviewed it and placed to Purchase Committee for approval. EMRD was told that as no purchase is involved EMRD itself can give approval. But even then after scanning everything again the proposal upon instruction of Chief Advisor was sent to council of advisors for approval. But unfortunately that has been returned to EMRD for further scrutiny.
    In the meantime an identified group of non professionals who always oppose any development efforts is conspicuously agitating against leasing out of offshore blocks to IOCs questioning constitutional right of CTG to approve such action. At a period when Bangladesh economic development g is tending to be stalled due to deteriorating gas supply situation can we or should we be so fussy? Are we not acting to the intent of the neighbouring countries to let them proceed unopposed in exploration for Petroleum in the Bay of Bengal? We believe Care Taker Government will read the writing on the wall and take decision without surrendering to the nefarious design of certain quarter to serve neighbours cause.

    Meantime let us deal with the situation at hand. Press reports in Bangladeshi newspapers indicate that about 62000 square kilometre of boundary areas of Bangladesh with Myanmar and India have not been demarcated as yet. Myanmar mobilized its naval ships to escort the Drilling rig Ocean Legend 1 carrying ship of Korean Company Daewoo to explore 50 miles south of St Martin Coast It started survey on 1st November 2008.
    The press report also reminded that Vice Chairman of ruling Junta General Maung Eyi led a 55 member high powered Myanmar delegation to Bangladesh on a 3 day state visit on 7th October 2008.The delegation among others included Energy Minister Lun Thee, Commerce Minister Tin Naying Thin, Finance Minister Sho Khaand Communication Minster Major General So Tun. This delegation requested Bangladesh Chief Advisor Dr.Fakhruddin Ahmed to exercise his personal initiative to resolve maritime boundary disputes. Later the delegation also held discussions with Foreign Advisor Dr.Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Commerce Advisor Hussein Zillur Rahman, Communication Advisor Major General (Rtd) Golam Kader and special Assistant to CA on Energy Affairs Dr. M. Tamim.On 8th October 2008 Myanmar Energy Minister during meeting with Dr. M.Tamim categorically assured that Myanmar will not d go for exploration in disputed areas .The dispute will be resolved through mutual discussions. One wonders what actually happended in three weeks which made Myanmar to break the promise and threaten Bangladesh territorial integrity?
    Myanmar is reportedly claiming 14 blocks with Bangladesh territory. The total area of these blocks is about 48,025 Square Kilometre. These are blocks 11, 12, 13. 15, 16. 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26 and 27. On the other hand India claims about 31743 Kilometre of Bangladesh territory as their own area. These are at blocks 5, 9, 14, 15, 19,20,24 &25.Three neighbours all claimed blocks 19,20, 24 & 25 as their own territory.
    India and Myanmar are at much advanced stage as they have already engaged International Oil Companies to conduct surveys in disputed areas .Bangladesh failed to do it due to submissive foreign policy of all government since Bangabandhu led Awami League Government after Independence. Myanmar has ventured to carryout survey inside Bangladesh territory when Petrobangla proposal to make award of lease of 20 offshore blocks is awaiting final nod of the council of advisors. One can very easily correlate this development. It has become clearer when some of our university teachers have issued joint appeal for not approving the EMRD proposal.

    If Bangladesh fail to engage IOcs to commence survey and establish its right then it will fail to register its claim within date line of 2011 and our case to resolve the matter as per UN Sea convention will get weaker.

    Although Myanmar has withdrawn its naval vessels and Daewoo has taken back its drilling rig from Bangladesh territory Myanmar have reportedly mobiliged huge forces along Bangladesh Myanmar border. Well there is no way Myanmar authority will venture to attack Bangladesh at this stage .But it may be a ploy to keep our forces engaged in the border during the ensuing election. It won’t be also unwise to think that it is a trial case of other intelligent neighbour to wait and watch Bangladesh response. Bangladesh also reinforced Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and Bangladesh Navy efforts with the deployment of Bangladesh Army troops at Karkal Bagan of Ramu Upozilla.People of Myanmar do not support this m Myanmar Military Junta. They killed democracy and ignored popular mandate to political Icon Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sang Suchie.Myanmar Junta violates human rights and carry out oppression on their own people every now and then. Some Bangladeshis believe that to offset Indian influence we should turn east and find link with China through Myanmar. This they do despite the fact that China sided with occupation Pakistan Army in 1971 and supplied the killers with weapons to kill Bangladesh efforts on liberation. Indians at least helped us in 1971 and Indian Army fought against Pakistan Occupation army alongside with us in liberating Bangladesh. The recent incident only prove that our go east politics is v counter productive.

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    My feeling on this issue is that Myanmar run by military junta and backed by PRC politically took advantage of time when a non elected government backed by military is incharge of the country.Such government has zero support among the people. They should have had discussed issue with two former prime ministers of the country.
    I am sure political would definitely be able to handle the issue in right direction.

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    if bangladesh was sleeping for 35 years, is it the fault of india or myanmar??

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    @DeviPoet—no offense, i am a common people and student of Dhaka College. The military backed interim government led by Mr. Fakruddin had the full support of this countrymen leaving a few political scoundrels aside. The agreement signed with Myanmar in 1974 and a few amendments in 1979, was a clear cut treaty, but Myanmar refuses to oblige by those minutes of the treaty. And now they even disagree in International Court in London that they signed any such treaties…such a hypocrite.
    @ 2nd commentator—-For the last 35 years we were trying to survive amid numerous natural calamities, political changes, trying to live peacefully and in best terms with a war hungry Myanmar and a selfish best friend.

    If you disagree—send me your reply–

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    The illegitimate and unconstitutional junta of Moin was a total failure. It had no popular support whatsoever. Otherwise its brainchild Yunus and his creators would have been in power now. I refuse to call it a government since it was undemocratic. Similar military-backed juntas have been repeatedly rejected by the people.

    Moin and Yunus were the main conspirators. Fakruddin was just acting as a ‘chaaprashi'(a peon) carrying out their agenda for long-term illegal grab on power.

  8. Author Image

    Sharmeen Jahan

    @Yasin: The illegitimate unconstitutional junta (I refuse to call it a government since it was unelected and fascist in nature)of Moin U Ahmed had no popular support whatsoever. Fakruddin was basically a stooge in the hands of the army and Yunus.

    I am glad that the illegal government of Moin and Fakruddin was rejected by the people. The Burmese army would have never cooperated with that undemocratic power-grabbers. Instead it went on a war footing taking advantage of the weak and failed attempt by the Yunus-backed brutal regime.

    As a student of Dhaka College Yasin should be ashamed of himself after what the brutal military regime did on innocent DU students. The violence broke out after army men, camped on the campus, beat up students on Aug 20, 2007 following an altercation with some students on the university playground during a football match. This resulted in tortures of students and teachers taken into custody involving violence at Dhaka University four years ago by the army and its dreaded DFI (Gestapo-like intelligence agency created in line with the fundamentalist ISI of Pakistan).

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