F R Chowdhury:


A few days back I wrote an article about Marine Academy in which I mentioned that our future is closely linked with sea. Thanks God, our government realized the matter and took every possible action to ensure that we get our due share of sea that the international convention UNCLOS-82 (UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas – 1982) provides for. Sea provides the scope for building up merchant marine, sea-fishing, exploration of oil, gas and other minerals. Perhaps one day it may provide opportunity for power generation without harming the environment. I still remember how the late President Ziaur Rahman had taken politicians, civil servants; teachers and students to sea to get them familiarized with sea and explained them about importance of sea. It was on former pilgrim ship “Hizbul Bahr” commanded by Capt. Rashid Khan in which I was the project in charge for the presidential visit. That was even before the adoption of the UN Convention.

The Prime Minister Hasina appointed a senior civil servant (Rear Admiral Khurshid Alam) to work solely on UNCLOS-82 matter with Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni. Our neighbours India and Myanmar had already identified and established their claim on their respective sea areas. Their maps were readily available internationally through different publications. The matter had advanced to a stage that other parties were not ready for negotiation. Bangladesh soon became a party to the Convention and submitted claims of its sea areas within the stipulated period. The question of settlement with Myanmar went to ITLOS (International Tribunal for the Laws of the Seas) at Hamburg. We won our case and established our sea boundary with Myanmar. However, India preferred to take the case to ICJ (International Court of Justice at Hague) and there as well we won our rightful claims. Our claim and supporting arguments were prepared by famous maritime lawyer Dr Thomas Mensah of Ghana. Dr Mensah was previously the Assistant Secretary General of International Maritime Organization and was later the first presiding judge of ITLOS. I happened to be his student at WMU when he was a Visiting Professor. Finally our economic zone is identified and clears both with India as well as Myanmar. We won the wars without fighting a war. We also gradually developed a sizeable navy and Coastguard to protect our sea resources.

The Petro-Bangla has divided our sea areas into a number of blocks for convenience of reference and project agreements. Our Blok-12 adjoining the Myanmar waters has good deposit of oil and gas. This primary discovery has been made by a South Korean company. Now it is for the government to decide on next stage of operation. Drilling and platform expenses will go near to one billion US dollars. The pipe-line expenses will involve another one billion dollars. Yet another one billion will be necessary as operational capital for recruitment, mobilization of resources including craft, vessels and platforms. It is very capital intensive. Bangladesh alone cannot cope with financial and technical challenges. It needs a joint venture partner. However, any deal should protect our national interest as much as possible. Bangladesh got an expert like Dr Kamal Hossain who has been teaching this subject in foreign universities and institutes. He studied in depth how Indonesia made such international contracts. We should not drag politics in it but can seek his assistance.

Petro-Bangla must have at least 25% stake in the joint venture and get all the opportunity for transfer of know-how. Our MSA must require only own flag vessels, craft and platform to be used within our waters. Similarly MSA should require our own nationals to be employed on such vessels. All foreign nationals must require work permit. Experts can stipulate conditions relating to sale of oil and gas where Bangladesh must have the first choice.

Through this article I shall call up on the government for quick and early action. I shall remind political opponents that constructive criticism is helpful. Please do not oppose any good move for the sake of opposition. In the national interest we must support every good move and extend all the cooperation. We have to do it quick. If Myanmar starts drilling on their side ahead of us, chances are there that lot of our resources will be also sucked through. Indecision or delay is going to be suicidal. Winning the war will become meaningless. Let us decide and move forward. Let us do it quick.

London, 17-September-2019                                                                  <fazlu.chowdhury@btinternet.com>