Ten years after being awarded 1,30,467 square kilometres of maritime territory following long-standing disputes with India and Myanmar, Bangladesh has yet to fully capitalise on its maritime potential due to a lack of a comprehensive policy framework, said experts.
Economists believe that the global economy will be driven by the maritime economy in the next two decades, and Bangladesh has the potential to earn billions of dollars by exporting various maritime resources, including marine biodiversity, ecosystem services, fish and seafood, minerals, oil and gas, marine energy, sand and gravel, and tourism.
They also call on international investors to support Bangladesh in its maritime development, as collaboration is essential for investment, knowledge transfer, technical assistance, research and innovation, capacity building in infrastructure, human resource development, and recruitment of skilled manpower.
In 2012, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea awarded Bangladesh 1,11,000 sq km in the Bay of Bengal after a long territory dispute with Myanmar. Two years later, the Permanent Court of Arbitration awarded Bangladesh an additional 19,467 sq km in the Bay of Bengal, following a dispute with India.
Potential of maritime economy
The maritime economy, or blue economy, offers significant potential for investors. Bangladesh has taken some initiatives in this regard, but these have not been effective, while Myanmar has already begun extracting mineral resources near Bangladesh’s sea block.
Bangladesh currently harvests fish in only 60 km of its 664-km sea area. As a result, Bangladesh’s share of global fish production is only 2.6%, whereas China alone accounts for 61% of the world’s fish supply.
Rear Admiral (Retd) Md Khurshed Alam, secretary of the Maritime Affairs Unit of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, noted that Bangladesh’s blue economic zone is equal to 81% of its mainland territory.
“One and a half lakh ships transport goods through oceanways all over the world. The sector is worth $9 billion and grows at a rate of 15% per year. Out of the total containers in the world, 74% is used in Asia, which opens another investment opportunity for Bangladesh,” Khurshed added.
He also stated that the Matarbari deep sea port will help to exploit the potential of the maritime economy.
“The Bay of Bengal offers a suite of opportunities for sustainable, clean, equitable blue economy growth in both traditional and emerging sectors,” he added.
There are about 475 species of fish in Bangladesh’s Exclusive Economic Zone compared to 250 freshwater species. About 70,000 artisanal mechanised and non-mechanised wooden boats and about 250 industrial steel-body trawlers are engaged in fishing, which can be increased to explore the full potential of the blue economy.
Maritime trade, shipping
M Maksud Alam, managing director of Chittagong Dry Dock Limited (CDDL), said that Bangladesh has 97 ocean-going vessels, 456 coastal vessels, 12,372 fishing vessels, and 18,925 seafarers.
“The country has three ports, one deep sea port, one bay terminal and 16,980 inland vessels. Besides, we have over 100 shipbuilding and repair facilities and more than 120 ship recycling facilities,” he added.
Maksud stated that 95% of the country’s international trade is carried out by sea. It contributes $324.24 billion in annual GDP. Nearly 29% of the population lives in the coastal areas.
“Every year, approximately 6,000 ocean-going ships use Bangladeshi ports. We have one of the largest networks of inland waterways of 24,000 km, 200 river ports and about 20,000 coastal and inland ships. Coastal shipping and feeder services are cost-effective, time-efficient, and job-creating modes of transport,” he added. He said further that the government requires a proper policy framework to utilise all these….