The Financial Express

Exploiting Bay of Bengal resources  

Shahiduzzaman Khan   | Published: February 15, 2020 22:01:55

Exploiting Bay of Bengal resources   

With the approval of the Bangladesh Maritime Zones Act, 2019, last year, doors are now wide open for the country to exploit the rich marine resources in the Bay of Bengal, exercising the country's sovereign rights over the extended maritime boundary.

The new act, which has replaced the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act, 1974, is said to be more comprehensive and updated. It ensures the right to tap enormous potential of the country's blue economy.

The new act has, according to reports, 14 chapters and 137 sections that deal with a number of maritime-related issues which were absent in the previous act.

It has several new and contemporary issues such as maritime terrorism, ocean governance, exclusive economic zone, warfare, submarine cable, anti-piracy, grey area, criminal and civil jurisdiction in sea vessels and nuclear waste transportation.

As defined in the act, the 'Blue Economy' is comprised of economic activities that directly or indirectly take place in the seas, oceans and coastal waters using sea/oceanic resources; exploration and exploitation of ocean resources in a sustainable manner.

There is also provision for appropriate use of ocean and coastal waters; use of ocean products as main input; making use of goods and services to support activities of the oceans and seas and protection of ocean environment.

The act details the nature of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ of Bangladesh comprises an area of the sea beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea extending to a line every point of which is at a distance of 200 nautical miles from the nearest points of the territorial sea baselines/normal baseline of the nearest coastline.

The act says: In accordance with international law, Bangladesh has several rights which are sovereign rights for the purpose of exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of the natural resources, both living and non-living, as well as for producing energy from tides, currents and winds.

Bangladesh will also have exclusive rights and jurisdiction for construction, maintenance or operation of artificial island, offshore terminals, installations and other structures and devices necessary for exploration and exploitation of resources of the zone or for convenience of shipping or for any other purposes.

According to the act, the Bangladesh government may make regulations to provide for authorisation of persons or organisations to explore natural resources, or to recover or attempt to recover any such resources, in accordance with such terms and conditions as may be determined by the government.

With adoption of the new act, the government of Bangladesh has, of late, given utmost importance to the blue economy setting a time-frame to start exploring newly acquired maritime areas within the next few years. Bangladesh's win in a legal fight with Myanmar and India helped establish ownership on a large size of maritime areas in the Bay of Bengal, which is a vast store of huge mineral and fisheries resources.

As the country has least experience in exploration of maritime resources including fisheries, the government has procured a maritime survey ship and is taking other necessary steps for extracting the resources.

The concept of the blue economy was, in fact, conceived at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, viewing the idea as an alternative economic model for sustainable development that puts the oceans at the centre of this approach.

The government has set up Bangladesh Institute of Marine Technology (BIMT) and is conducting study of oceanography at two public universities to carry out research in the Bay of Bengal. There were only two marine academies in the country in 2009 while the number of such academies stood at 22 in 2018.

The government has allocated Tk 2.0 billion for conducting research on maritime resources such as fisheries and hydrocarbon. It is willing to explore resources in the seabed on sustainable means for a better future of the country.

Bangladesh is, however, making a strategic plan for exploring marine resources within the next two years. To ascertain the resources, it started surveying the Bay of Bengal to help boost the blue economy considering its potential.

The first ocean research and survey ship of the country is conducting the survey since 2016 to find out marine resources. Under the move, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock launched a project titled Bangladesh Marine Fisheries Capacity Building at a total cost of Tk 1.65 billion.

A total of 12 experts are now working on the project. The government is keen to complete the initial survey to ascertain the valuable marine resources there soon. The ship RV Min Sandhani is now engaged in assessing fish varieties, their stocks and other marine resources in the Bay, which will continue for the next 20-25 years uninterruptedly.

The World Bank is also providing funds worth Tk 99 million for study on the offshore turfs under the technical assistance (TA) project for spotting the potential of the blue economy.

The WB consultants are expected to prepare a development project proposal (DPP) for the investment project based on the survey results where a clear path of exploring potential resources in the Bay and their contribution to the economy would be detailed out.

While geographical borders divide countries, analysts believe friendship across the ocean can unite nations. Proper ocean management in the Asia Pacific region and effective utilisation of resources is not possible on the part of any single nation. So, the peoples of the region have to work together to utilise every potential for greater benefit.

A healthy ocean is essential for our lives but oceans are at risk now due to marine pollution, over-fishing in some cases, and global climate change. Overcoming such challenges and developing marine resources sustainably are the key to economic growth.




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