Maritime security of Bangladesh

What difficulties has Bangladesh faced in demarcating its maritime boundaries? What steps can it take to successfully address these issues? This issue brief from the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies examines the issues regarding the demarcation of Bangladesh’s maritime borders. It argues that Bangladesh must make preparations for establishing its claims over its maritime boundaries without delay.

The most important maritime security issue for Bangladesh is to delimit its maritime boundaries in order to exploit its offshore resources, including gas and oil. However, Bangladesh has faced a number of difficulties with neighbouring countries over the demarcation of maritime boundaries, including overlapping claims with India and Myanmar. If negotiations to resolve these disputes become fruitless, Bangladesh should make proper preparations to submit and win its claims through international legal regimes.

Discoveries of gas by India and Myanmar in 2005-6 make delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and continental shelf (CS) boundaries particularly important. However, Bangladesh faces a number of difficulties in demarcating its maritime borders:

  • Bangladesh’s claims are founded upon depth-based baselines, due to the characteristics of its coastline. It has declared straight baselines, selecting eight imaginary base points following the 10-fathom line.
  • The unique characteristics of Bangladesh’s coast create difficulties for demarcation. Bangladesh’s dynamic estuary and the continual process of alluvion and sedimentation, for example, mean that there is no stable low water line.
  • Due to the geographical and geomorphic nature of the coasts in the Bay of Bengal, states in the region sometimes encroach upon each others’ EEZs.
  • India and Myanmar argue that disputes with Bangladesh should be resolved according to the equidistant principle. Bangladesh, however, argues that in disputes between adjacent states, the equity principle should apply instead.

The government of Bangladesh should consider the maritime issue as an important aspect of national security and economic prosperity. It should promote technical developments for the maximum utilisation of marine resources. To enjoy the economic opportunities provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Bangladesh must demarcate its maritime boundary. To this end the government of Bangladesh should:

  • Acquire marine patrol aircraft to guard its territorial sea. It should provide the navy with sufficient sophisticated equipment to monitor and protect coastline islands, the EEZ and the CS. It should conduct joint naval exercises with major powers.
  • Enact domestic laws incorporating the UNCLOS in order to establish a stronger claim in international legal regimes. It may have to redraw its 1974 baselines to ensure they are consistent with the UNCLOS, 1982.
  • Coordinate experts working on UNCLOS and maritime issues in order to maintain continuity in the negotiating process. Coordination among the multiple organisations working on maritime issues is also vital.
  • Negotiate with Myanmar and India. This is vital since neither country favours third party intervention on this issue. It should consider the alliance relationship and prepare properly to establish strong claims at the negotiations.
  • Internationalise the issue in order to strengthen its claims and gain international support.
  • Consider joint management of resources, both renewable and non-renewable, which could benefit Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. However, this will require friendly relations and many rounds of negotiations.
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