Home / Feature / THEY DID NOT LEAVE; THEY WERE COMPELLED TO LEAVE – II (Gradual elimination of mariners from maritime sector)

THEY DID NOT LEAVE; THEY WERE COMPELLED TO LEAVE – II (Gradual elimination of mariners from maritime sector)

F R Chowdhury:


In the earlier article under the same heading I explained how the senior mariners of this country contributed their services to re-open the war ravaged ports of the country and then laid the foundation of the maritime sector of Bangladesh. Our progress in the maritime sector is the direct outcome of their sincere efforts. Yet, there has been no recognition or reward for their services. Instead, a slow and gradual process of conspiracy and hatred against the mariners has relieved/ removed the mariners from all key positions in this sector; and those positions are now occupied by others. It has done a lot of harm to the country. The country lost the services of those with necessary knowledge and skill. The Bangladeshi expertise has been accepted by open arms by other countries and those mariners are in very responsible positions in those countries. In this second part of the article I shall provide all facts and evidence to substantiate my statement.

From the time we know of the earth, we know that more than 2/3 of the surface area of earth is water. We had to explore other land masses through the sea. Transportation of goods and passengers were the primary use of the sea. Piracy and military use of the sea is understood but today’s world of trade, commerce and communication through the sea has given a new dimension to the world. Obviously most nations took it upon themselves to make their own laws to administer the sea affairs in the shape of the Merchant shipping Act. If those countries were to make similar laws today they would probably give it a different title. Because the original administration started with merchant shipping matters, it is the maritime administration that took all matters connected with the sea under three distinct heading – safety, security and protection of environment. Eventually the UN agency IMO (International Maritime Organization) came into being to assist in formulation of common policies in the shape of international conventions. There are appropriate rules and regulations for all activities at sea and are monitored by sovereign states through their maritime administrations. Not only fishing and recreational use of sea but even the off-shore industry including oil and gas exploration has to comply with IMO conventions.

There were certain other matters relating to the sea yet to be resolved. Demarcation of sea boundaries was paramount so that nations could identify their jurisdiction without any dispute and determine their right for fishing or other exploration. There were matters relating to land-locked countries. There were also areas beyond all limits and the question of harnessing those resources. There was also the need for resolution of disputes between nations. After years of negotiation, the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas was adopted in 1982 known as UNCLOS-82. It is a wonderful umbrella convention that took on board all existing conventions and recognized the role of related UN organs and agencies. It created the sea as a common heritage of mankind making sure that all nations and peoples could benefit from the sea. It created two organizations – International Sea-bed Authority (in Jamaica) and a tribunal (in Hamburg) for resolution of disputes between nations in addition to the existing UN Court of Justice. This is the only convention that not only member states but also UN agencies can sign for better cooperation and coordination.

The future of Bangladesh is very closely linked with the sea and as such UNCLOS-82 was considered a blessing for Bangladesh. Bangladesh quickly signed the convention and started circulating its map showing the sea area under its jurisdiction. The Government also sent some young civil servants for necessary education and training to Canada (Dalhousie University) and a number of others already had basic knowledge of the Convention through WMU courses. Bangladesh had to go to the Hamburg tribunal to resolve its dispute with Myanmar and to the Hague based UN court of justice for resolving a similar dispute with India. In both cases Bangladesh won most of its deserving claims. To deal with these matters effectively, Bangladesh opened a “cell” under a senior officer in the foreign ministry. The primary goal was to have our sea border demarcated to protect our share of sea resources. However, calling it “Maritime Affairs” was not well intended. It had other motives. It had nothing to do with maritime affairs because the Government already had a department of shipping taking care of all maritime matters. A divided or duplicated administration can never deliver the intended role and functions of the government. Creation of maritime affairs under the ministry of foreign affairs was nothing other than an attempt for creation of its own empire. It was the beginning of the conspiracy game. It was possible only because our political leaders were not smart enough to detect such undue and unwanted activities by a small group of civil servants, for whom personal glory was the goal, without any consideration of how damaging this would be to the nation.

The original task force had already done enough groundwork, when services of the navy sought to get a “better” in-put of hydrographic matters. But instead of working with the task force, the officer concerned installed himself as a one man, through a coup d’état style action of hijacking the cell. Those who had done the initial groundwork are no more connected with it. Naming the cell as Maritime Affairs was the next step. These diversionary tactics and activities kept being introduced and gained momentum. Directly or indirectly, all efforts were put together to show the failure of the maritime administration.

It is because of fine manipulation of this cell that the Department of Shipping could not appoint a mariner in our London mission for representing Bangladesh in IMO activities. The recent failure for Bangladesh to get elected in the IMO Council was due to absence of any such representation.

Eventually, the Government realized the importance of having a representation in IMO but the move was spoiled by appointing a Bangladeshi living in the UK. This man had no connection with any matter related to the sea or ships. But he was closely related or connected to someone in the ministry. After a few months this man finally surrendered by saying that the representation should be better made by some professional person.

The Ministry of Shipping finally made a proposal for creation of a post in our London High Commission for representation to IMO and reporting back to DG Shipping and the High Commissioner. The proposal received the consent of the Ministry of Finance and was finally approved by the Prime Minister. One of the professional civil servants (a commandant of one of the marine academies) was nominated for the post and this was also approved by the PM. The conspirators worked quietly to re-name the post as Councillor, Maritime Affairs so that this officer reports back to foreign ministry eliminating the role of the maritime administration. That way they would successfully divide the administration. Not only that, I believe efforts are underway to convince the government that a person of naval background would serve better in the post. The officer whose appointment has already been approved at the highest level and who should already be representing Bangladesh in IMO is presently running between the two ministries to obtain “clearance”.  It is time the government finds out this invisible manipulator who has the audacity of flouting the orders from the highest level. These unscrupulous persons are enemies of the country and they must not be allowed to do any further damage to the country.

Our last BSC representative in London took a lot of interest in IMO matters and always kept the ministry and the department informed of all activities. It was through his efforts that Bangladesh was elected in the Council for at least two terms. By the time the BSC office in London was closed down, the representative was already employed by the IMO.  The Government nominated him for IMSO and this man is now the Director General of IMSO for the second term. Such a gradual build-up from representation to IMO (during which period he was also the chairperson of a committee), working for IMO in P-5 position and then director-general of IMSO. Bangladesh has now a person known to almost everyone ‘who is who’ in the world of shipping. It is for the first time that Bangladesh reached up to that level and certainly it is the right time for Bangladesh to stand for the top job in IMO. If we do not avail this opportunity, God knows better if we will ever again get another opportunity.

Rightly the community made a move and the Ministry of Shipping agreed to contest the election for the post of secretary-general. But this initiative was suppressed and blocked time and again by the same conspirators until the foreign minister took the matter in his hand and got the approval of the prime minister. This paper relating to IMO’s top job is now lying in absolute silence both in the foreign ministry as well as our London mission. It is again the same conspirators who are trying to do the damage to the country by keeping the file inactive knowing very well that Bangladesh could win the election only through long term actions well in advance. Bangladesh is not a rich country like Japan or Germany to buy votes in exchange of aid or assistance. Bangladesh is also not rich enough for its foreign minister to visit capital cities of all council member states with our candidate to seek their support. The way Bangladesh could achieve the goal is by carefully planning in advance.

Winning the coming election for top IMO job is not impossible provided we draw the correct strategy. It is requested that our FM should advise our missions in New York, Geneva, London and Jeddah to keep an eye on all forthcoming elections whether for UN agency or Commonwealth or OIC and ensure that our vote is given only after sufficient understanding of reciprocal support for our IMO campaign. The FM may also advise our missions in IMO Council States to keep working in a steady and gradual process to gain their support for our IMO campaign. We can surely move ahead of others by taking these actions in advance. Our candidate is a house-hold name in IMO and well-known in the professional circle. What we need is a diplomatic punch and that our Foreign Minister may kindly arrange and deliver.

The silence of our High Commission, knowingly or not, is mysterious. It was expected that our HC would have a meeting with our nominee and discuss the campaign strategy. It is still not too late to do so. IMO is located in London and our mission in London will have the key role. Together they should decide when to announce publicly and how best to introduce our nominee. A press conference of maritime journalists should be one of the options where our candidate may give an outline as to how this UN agency can be made more dynamic. Our London mission must maintain close contact with missions of IMO Council member states in London so that we can get as many of those votes as possible.

Before I conclude this article I would like to focus clearly on certain points. The officer whose appointment as IMO coordinator has already been approved by the PM must be made effective without any further delay. The government, if it desires, may also conduct an inquiry into the delay and find those responsible for it. The officer will be attached to our High Commission and be answerable to the HC. It will be his duty to keep DG Shipping (our maritime administration) informed of all development and activities in the IMO and take such actions as advised. The officer should be designated as our IMO Coordinator or maritime attaché.

As I explained earlier our chances of winning the top IMO job will largely depend on how early we start our campaign and take the lead. I would request our Foreign Minister and our High Commissioner in London to call our nominee and discuss the matter. Together we should work to get the best results. There is no time to hide or suppress the file or to go into silence and forget the issue. This is a national matter as it involves the image of the country.

The cell in the ministry of foreign affairs looking after our sea boundary and other interest in the sea should be renamed appropriately so that it does not cause any duplication or mix-up with the maritime administration (Department of Shipping) which looks after maritime affairs except that demarcation of sea areas. This is how maritime administration works in all developed countries. Any delay will encourage the vested interests to cause more problems. In any future re-organization, the present department of shipping should be renamed as “Department of Shipping and Maritime Affairs”. The existence of two independent organizations representing the maritime sector is counterproductive, with no specific terms of reference and no defined authority.

I am sorry to say that the standard of general education in the country has fallen. This has certainly affected our civil service and general administration. Compared to that, the marine academy works outside any political influence and the training is never hampered by political actions. The nautical cadets study navigation (astronomical to satellite navigation), ship maintenance and operation, stowage and handling of cargo, economic geography, the UN system and international conventions and protocols, international trade and commerce and personnel management. The marine engineering cadets study physics, mathematics, electricity, types of boilers and principle of operation of steam engine including reciprocal and turbine, internal combustion engine and generators, manoeuvring of main engine and power distribution, maintenance and operation of air-conditioning and refrigeration. Marine Engineers also complete workshop (electrical and mechanical) training as per IMO syllabus to ensure a balance combination of theoretical knowledge with practical experience. There is requirement of mandatory period of sea-service and examination for progression to each higher position. Together they to put in years of training and service on ships going to different corners of the world before they eventually qualify as master mariner or class-1 marine engineer. Such well-trained people are an asset to the country. Marine engineers are a blend of mechanical and electrical engineers. That is why they are employed by five star hotel chains and off-shore industry including LNG and LPG sector.

Mariners have in the past held responsible portfolios, such as Director General of Shipping, Managing Director of BSC, Chief executive of TCB, Chairman of Port Authority, Sadharan Bima and Chittagong Development Authority. There was no problem. All civil servants worked together for the country. Appointment or promotion to senior civil service positions should be based on talent, experience and competence. Professional people like doctors, mariners, engineers, accountants and others must enjoy equal opportunities. There must not be any hatred or discrimination.

A mariner has been serving as commandant of the marine academy for over 15 years but there is no promotion for him. He got several extensions of service that shows his calibre. Why can the services of such an efficient civil servant not be utilized in a higher capacity? Government should investigate these matters and eliminate the hate campaign against mariners. No individual is indispensable and national interest is higher than personal interest.

“Hate the mariners and drive them out” is a recent phenomenon, which is being fed into the minds of the decision-making authorities.  It is about time the country begins to re-evaluate its responsibilities and obligations towards the maritime industry. There needs to be one and only one administration which should be made responsible, the Ministry of Shipping. The existence of an additional organization such as Maritime Affairs under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is counterproductive and not required. Accountability and responsibility should be apportioned to one organization alone to progress in a structured manner.

Our mariners who are standing by to create a mark on an international level should be given immediate support and assistance to achieve international posts and earn fame for the country. The dangerous politics of playing the Bangladesh Navy against the Merchant Navy should be investigated and harshly condemned.  The best candidates should be considered for such posts, based on experience, merit, international exposure and acceptability.

It is time nepotism is put to rest and personal egos and ambitions at the expense of the country’s progress be banned. The government department and agencies should be re-aligned with international norm. Legislation and secondary regulations must be up-dated from time to time to keep us at par with other leading maritime nations. Deserving persons (without any discrimination) should receive governmental nomination and support for all international jobs. Time is of essence. We need to give this matter the urgency it deserves; and the government should develop a clean, well-directed policy based on reasons and justifications that will be beyond criticism and debate. We owe this to the country and our future generations.

London, 03-February-2022       [email protected]