Bangladesh desperately needs comprehensive maritime law

Although Bangladesh has ratified many international ocean conventions and laws, there is no comprehensive national legal framework to conserve marine environments in our country.

09 January 2022, 12:00

Last modification: January 09, 2022, 12:05 PM

The government of Bangladesh has repeatedly affirmed its ambition to establish a “blue economy”, which includes sea fishing and aquaculture. Photo: UNB

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The government of Bangladesh has repeatedly affirmed its ambition to establish a “blue economy”, which includes sea fishing and aquaculture. Photo: UNB

Despite being a fairly small country, in terms of land mass, Bangladesh has an extremely large population. In fact, it is the tenth most densely populated country in the world. Therefore, maintaining such a large population with little arable land and natural resources has been a concern of policy makers for a very long time.

But our nation has been endowed with a wealth of marine resources, the proper use of which can be a crucial factor for sustainable and continued development.

Bangladesh has a coastal area of ​​2.30 million hectares and a coastline of 720 km along the Bay of Bengal. Not surprisingly, a quarter of its total population, around 35 million, live along the coast, depending both directly and indirectly on the sea for their livelihood.

After resolving maritime border disputes with India and Myanmar, Bangladesh now has 2,07,000 square kilometers of sea, 1.4 times more than our total land area. An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 166,000 square kilometers is also included in this border, where Bangladesh can exploit natural resources as it pleases.

The government of Bangladesh has repeatedly affirmed its ambition to establish a “blue economy”, expanding the economic potential of the country. A crucial part of this new horizon will be marine fishing and aquaculture.

Bangladesh is also blessed in this regard, with a tremendous extent of marine biodiversity. About 1,093 marine species are found in the Bay of Bengal, including fish, crustaceans, seaweed and shrimp.

Almost 457 species of fish are available in our EEZ alone. Compared to the 250 species of freshwater fish found in our country, the Bay of Bengal can provide us with an extremely varied and abundant range of fish.

For a developing country like ours, proper use of this resource can meet our protein needs and stimulate the economy. In addition, the by-products of these resources can be used for research and development as well as as an industrial raw material.

Unfortunately, there is no adequate legal framework to protect these resources. The ocean is continually polluted by agricultural runoff, urban waste, industrial effluents, sewage and unregulated ships. Port activities and the shipbreaking industry are also major sources of ocean pollution.

Although Bangladesh has ratified many international ocean conventions and laws, there is no comprehensive national legal framework to conserve marine environments in our country.

In accordance with article 192 of UNCLOS, States have an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment. But Bangladesh has yet to meet this obligation.

The Environmental Conservation Act (ECA) 1995 (amended 2010) provided a framework to minimize pollution and preserve the environment. But the law does not contain any provision targeting marine pollution. It also does not contain a mechanism for implementing international laws and conventions that Bangladesh has ratified.

Although there are a number of sectoral laws, these are not free from loopholes and loopholes. For example, under the Law on Territorial Waters and Maritime Areas, the government can take action against marine pollution. But there is no such provision in the law specifying the acts which constitute marine pollution.

Another drawback of the law is found in the fishing industry. As we know, the implementation of fisheries policy depends on an effective monitoring and evaluation procedure. But existing fisheries policies lack appropriate clauses for adequate monitoring and impact assessment.

The Coast Guard Act 2016 is the Bangladesh government’s most commendable initiative. But the focus is not on building Coast Guard capacity and advancing technological equipment. As a result, the country’s huge and ingenious maritime border has not been used properly to this day.

Not surprisingly, there has been no exclusive maritime tribunal established in Bangladesh despite its large maritime border. Laws relating to foreign investment in this sector are weak and outdated. There has not been a remarkable effort to encourage investment in this sector, although there is a lot of potential.

In order to protect the marine ecosystem, preserve marine biodiversity and prevent the endangerment of the marine environment, we must adopt as soon as possible a comprehensive marine law in line with international maritime rules and regulations. Otherwise, we will see our crucial marine resources go to waste.


Umm Habiba. Sketch: SCT

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Umm Habiba.  Sketch: SCT

Umm Habiba. Sketch: SCT

Umme Habiba is an LLB student at the University of Chittagong.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.