Bangladesh navy patrol new sea boundary

Sharier Khan in Dhaka/The Daily Star
Asia News Network

Dhaka (The Daily Star/ANN) - Following the last week's victory at a UN court in Bangladesh's maritime boundary claims to Burma, Bangladesh Navy has made its first patrol across the settled boundary in the Bay of Bengal.

A competent navy source said that three ships in Chittagong and one in Mongla were deployed during the patrol on March 15 - a day after the verdict was pronounced. Of them, two ships cruised down south straight from the Saint Martin's Island.

A navy official, who returned from the patrol Sunday, told The Daily Star, "We cruised up to 175 nautical miles into the Bay. We usually do not patrol this deep. But the sea was quiet and we had our orders.

"We did not see any Burma ship in our territory. The only Burma ship we saw was well within their territory," said the officer.

On March 14, Bangladesh won the verdict at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which sustained its claim to 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic and territorial rights in the Bay of Bengal, rejecting the claims of Burma. With this, Bangladesh got its right in a sea area of 1.11 lakh square miles. (One lakh is equivalent to 100,000.)

Following this, Bangladesh for the first time patrolled the area without any hitch last week. "We could not go to this line before. But now we know our limit and they know theirs," quips the officer.

The navy would continue the patrol round the year, although from April, the sea turns too rough.

Previously, Bangladeshi fishermen used to be detained or harassed by the Burma navy personnel if they were found to be cruising in the disputed waters.

However, presently, US oil company ConocoPhillips is conducting a 2,200 kilometre seismic survey to explore oil or gas in a sea area, part of which were previously claimed by Burma. The survey is expected to be complete next month.

Upon interpretation of the seismic dada, if the company finds any prospect and decides to drill any exploratory well there next year, the navy would have to ensure necessary security.

Back in November 2008, naval forces of Bangladesh and Burma were locked in a tense standoff for nearly a week when the latter brought in an oil and gas exploration ship in the disputed waters. The hotspot was located 55 kilometres southwest at 227 degrees from the Saint Martin's Island.

The Burmese authorities were escorting a Korean ship to start exploration activities there ignoring warnings put by the Bangladesh Navy. All diplomatic bids to end this face-off seemed to be failing until the South Korean company itself withdrew from the operation.

After the maritime boundary issue is settled, it now appears that the 2008 exploration area by Burma falls within their territory. A naval officer said that Bangladesh enjoys its rights up to 215 degrees southwest from the Saint Martin's Island.