The UN Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague in a landmark on Bangladesh maritime claim contesting India’s overlapping claims on territorial waters of the Bay of Bengal by and large accepted Dhaka’s claim over 200 nautical miles’ exclusive economic zone the continental shelf beyond to the high sea.
The judgment which was simultaneously released from Dhaka and New Delhi on Tuesday last moreover gave Bangladesh 19,467 sq km area out of the disputed 25,602 sq km in the sea.
The judgment is final and binding on both countries and cannot be appealed against.
The five member panel of judges made a unanimous verdict except a note of dissent by an Indian judge on the panel on a chunk of sea at the edge of the exclusive economic zone extending to the continental shelf.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali released the verdict at the Foreign Ministry accompanied by former foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni who was the principal agent for Bangladesh in handling the case.
Welcoming the verdict he said “It is a victory for both states, it is the victory of friendship and it is a win-win situation for the people of Bangladesh and India because it finally resolves [the issue] peacefully and according to international law.”
At the other end spokesperson of Indian External Ministry Syed Akbaruddin also welcomed the verdict saying “We respect the verdict of the tribunal and are in the process of studying the award and its full implications….
This paves the way for the economic development of this part of the Bay of Bengal, which will be beneficial to both countries,” he said.
BNP Vice-chairman Hafiz Uddin Ahmed however said the verdict has established
India’s dominance over the exclusive economic zone and that Bangladesh’s rights wer not protected. Mahmood Ali praised India for its willingness to resolve the matter peacefully under the ambit of international law and its acceptance of the tribunal’s judgment. Bangladesh will now be able now to attract international oil companies to explore gas in the deep sea. Past efforts in this regard did not get much response due to the maritime disputes with Myanmar and India.
The verdict has allocated all 10 gas blocks to Bangladesh, but five of the blocks will have to readjust areas with India in the sea. With these undisputed waters in hand, Dhaka can also tap deep sea fish resources and other liveable and non-liveable resources.
The foreign minister said the tribunal sustained Bangladesh’s claims of equitable solution instead of equi-distance method which India was insisting.
“Bangladesh’s full access to high seas out to 200 nautical miles and beyond is now guaranteed as are our undisputed rights to fishing in our waters and the natural resources beneath our seabed,” he said.
The verdict ensured Bangladesh more than 1,18,813 sq km of waters comprising territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and also undeniable sovereign rights in the seabed extending as far as 354 NM or 667 km from the Chittagong coast.
The five-member tribunal agreed with Bangladesh that the “equidistance” method proposed for dividing the disputed waters between the two neighboring countries was not equitable to Bangladesh. Former foreign minister Dipu Moni, the chief agent of the country, and Khurshed Alam, the deputy agent, also spoke at the press conference. Dhaka lodged the case against New Delhi with the PCA in February 2011 after India unfairly cut off a significant portion of Bangladesh’s maritime area in the Bay.
Earlier, Bangladesh won a similar judgment in a case against Myanmar on March 14, 2012. The 2012 judgment was awarded by a 21-member International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany. It had similarly rejected “equidistance” boundaries as proposed by Myanmar.
The tribunal awarded Bangladesh a sizable share of the disputed waters in the eastern part of the Bay, including the continental shelf. The verdict brings to an end the arbitral process that was commenced by Bangladesh concerning Myanmar and India under the UNCLOS in 2009.
Replying to a question, Khurshed Alam, a former Rear Admiral of Bangladesh Navy and maritime expert and now an additional secretary at the Foreign Ministry said the ITLOS awarded Bangladesh 70,000 sq km area out of the total disputed area of 80,000 sq km with Myanmar. He also claimed Bangladesh had won in both the cases and the majority of 28 oil blocks came on Bangladesh side.
The maritime affairs chief said India claimed 10 and Myanmar claimed 17 out of Bangladesh’s claim for 28 blocks. But Bangladesh got 12 of the 17 claimed by Myanmar and all the 10 that India claimed, save some small portions of block 5, 9, 14, 19 and 24.
On the question of South Talpatti, Khurshed said the island did not exist anymore and that it went under water after the cyclone at Urir Char in 1985. But as per the Radcliffe boundary delimitation and all maps published by Bangladesh till 1980, South Talpatti was never a part of Bangladesh. “We have failed to prove that Talpatti was in our territory and thus Bangladesh lost claim over this territory as well.
The foreign minister said the verdict would enable both sides to move forward confidently and build a new era of understanding and cooperation in the maritime sector. Replying a question on the Grey Area over 50 sq km at the edge of Bangladesh’s exclusive economic zone, Khurshed Alam said Bangladesh can exploit its sea bed resources besides fishing in the waters. But India will also have the right to fishing. The problem may be resolved later through discussion, he said.
The Bangladesh legal team during the hearing on 9 December 2013 in the Peace Palace in The Hague was headed by Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, Dipu Moni, (as agent), Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and Khurshed Alam.
Paul Reichler and Lawrence Martin of the US, Prof James Crawford, Philippe Sands and Alan Boyle of the UK and Prof Payam Akhavan of Canada worked as legal counsel.
The five-member judge panel included presiding Judge Rudiger Wolfrum of Germany, Jean-Pierre Cot (France), Judge Thomas A Mensah (Ghana), Professor Ivan Shearer (Australia) and Dr Pemmaraju Sreenivasa Rao (India).
Source: Weekly Holiday