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No exploration yet into the maritime areas after 3yrs of settlement
BdChronicle Special Report:
Over three years on from the much-celebrated verdict of a UN court in Hamburg, allocating approximately 1,11,631 square kilometres of sea area to Bangladesh in a dispute with Myanmar, there has still been no exploration of the bounty of natural resources the country gained from its new waters.
The same applies to the significantly smaller area in the Bay of Bengal that went Bangladesh’s way from the verdict in a similar case against India, at the same court in 2014.
Now a proposal to set up a Maritime Commission is gaining in currency among experts, who say that lack of coordination among a string of government bodies is restricting the exploration of natural resources in the Bay of Bengal.
“Although three years have elapsed since demarcation of the maritime boundary with Myanmar, progress in exploring the marine resources in the area remains very slow for lack of coordination among the government organisations,” Engr Abdus Sobhan, executive general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Anlolon (Poba), told UNB.
Since none of the government bodies concerned are interested to delegate powers, the newly gained marine resources of Bangladesh remain firmly in the grip of the Foreign Ministry – who fought and won the case for Bangladesh- and the Bangladesh Navy, according to Engr. Sobhan.
“It is no more a responsibility for the Foreign Ministry. Their duty was only to settle the maritime disputes with India and Myanmar at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and bring the verdict in favour of the country, and that they have successfully done,” he added.
The job was done in two parts in fact – the first on March 14, 2012, when the maritime boundary of Bangladesh viz-a-viz Myanmar was settled by an ITLOS verdict.
Then in July 2014, Bangladesh gained some 19,467 square kilometres of maritime space (of the total 25,602 square kilometre-disputed area) from an ITLOS verdict in its case against India.
Prof Dr M Maruf Hossain, a teacher of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries of Chittagong University, regretted that Bangladesh has no mentionable achievement in its exploration of resources in the waters it gained over the last three years.
“No headway was made in this regard as the people involved in policymaking have no specialised knowledge in this field,” he added.
“Our neighbours who have achieved success in exploring marine resources have specialised knowledge in the field. The government should give importance to building experts and generating knowledge in marine sector,” Prof Maruf said.
Abdus Sobhan of POBA is in favour of setting up a Maritime Commission to provide the government policy options to protect and promote marine resources.
“The Marine Commission would primarily introduce best practices from various countries with huge marine resources and regulate the exploration works of the resources. The Commission should be formed involving maritime and environmental experts and policy-planners aiming to convert our Exclusive Economic Zone into a storehouse of resources in the Bay,” he added.
An extensive survey should be carried out urgently to assess the marine resources in the Bay, he said.
Ayaj Hossain Chisty of the Fisheries and Marine Resource Technology Department, Khulna University said “Our achievement still remains stuck at the planning level. There is no sign of implementation of the plans.”
He believes the potential for fisheries as well as other natural resources in the sea are ‘huge’, and so it is imperative upon the government to expend its best efforts to exploring it.
Chisty said the government can use local as well as foreign technology in exploring natural resources in the sea, although the use of foreign technology should be presaged by concerns of national security.
“The Bay of Bengal is full of biological diversity, diverging amongst coral reefs, estuaries, sea fish and mangroves. It is one of the world’s largest marine ecosystems,” he added.