Geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal 2

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Geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal 2


The Bay of Bengal lies between 80 and 220N latitudes and longitudes 800-950. It occupies an area of 21, 73,010 sq km having a wide continental shelf in the north and northeastern side and a narrow shelf in the western side along the eastern coast of India. It is bordered on the north by the deltaic regions of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, on the east the Myanmar peninsula and Nicobar ridges, the submerged continuation of the arakan yoma ranges and on the west the Indian peninsula and Srilanka. It is surrounded by countries India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Srilanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore including Nepal and Bhutan in the hinterland. The Bay of Bengal is a composite homogeneous geographical and ecological region with about 1.58billion people and a wide diversity of languages and culture. It is important for shipping with the Atlantic ocean / Arabian sea / Red sea / suez canal /Mediterranean sea as well as Strait of Hormuz in the west and to the countries of pacific ocean through a number of straits such as the Malacca strait, Sunda strait, bali strait and the lombak strait in the east.

The Maritime Area:

Bangladesh can be termed as a ‘maritime country’ with 24,824km2 of internal sea and 138,945km2 of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), totaling 163,749km2, which is 1.1 times larger than the land territory. Located near the eastern approaches of the Malacca Straits, Bangladesh commands an important geo-strategic position in the region. It also possesses the only sea port that is near to the landlocked Indian ‘Seven Sisters’. On the landward side, Bangladesh is mainly surrounded by India (on three sides) except for a small border of about 271km with Myanmar on the southeast. The Bay of Bengal lies on the south with a coastline of over 700km. The coastline includes Bangladesh’s sovereign possessions of St Martin’s and South Talpatti Islands. Apart from the claimed sea area, a successful continental shelf claim may add an additional 200,000km2 to Bangladesh’s EEZ.

As 90% of GNP depends on sea trade and commerce and almost 100% of Bangladesh’s energy requirement in terms of fuel arrives by sea from the Middle East, thoughtful exploitation of maritime resources is very important as far as national interest is concerned. The two Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) connected with two sea ports at Chittagong and Mongla provide access to the oceans and act as vital trade links. Thereby any sort of disruption to these SLOCs, whether in war or peace, will have a disastrous effect and may cripple the economy.

In the meantime, the Bay of Bengal has become a centre of attention of regional and extra regional powers due to the discovery of a substantial amount of natural gas off the Indian and Myanmar coasts and the possibility of more discoveries in the EEZ of Bangladesh. India and China are competing with each other for a share of the gas from Myanmar for their future energy security. In addition to this, the modernization drive of the neighboring navies and increasing influence of extra-regional powers including China and the USA in the maritime scenario are posing greater challenges for Bangladesh than ever before. Considering these factors, the fundamental maritime interests of Bangladesh may be considered as:

• Political – maintenance of maritime sovereignty and territorial integrity;

• Economic – exploration, exploitation and protection of seabed minerals, living

And non-living resources from EEZ and continental shelf;

• Security – security related interests are protection against seaborne conventional

And unconventional threats, and awareness of nuclear threats.

· China enjoys access to the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar.

· Dhaka’s proposal to connect Kunming with Bangladesh by road through Myanmar could be an alternative route for China;


The zone of maximum importance to mankind today for the exploitation of food resources is the uppermost layer of 100 m. This is the zone where most of the photosynthetic production of organic matter occurs. From this zone, more than 50% of the world’s fish catch is obtained at present. The regions occupying this zone are either fairly close to the coast or in very fertile areas of the coastal or offshore upwelling regions in the sea. Since such areas constitute only 25% of the total oceanic area, it can be assumed that -75 per cent of the ocean area may be termed as oligotrophic with moderate to low production rates. In Bangladesh, seafood consists largely of capture fisheries and for these the intensively exploited areas are found in the narrow coastal belt. The per capita consumption of fish should increase from 34gms of fish protein and 26 grams of animal protein to over 100 grams of animal protein per day per person. Estimates in recent years have revealed that the production of fish of about 1 million tones should be achievable from the whole of the Bay of Bengal, bringing continental shelf around up to a depth of 200 meters.

Sea weeds

Sea weeds constitute one of the major living resources of the sea and since ancient times have been exploited by man for food, animal feed/fodder, energy, fertilizers and for chemicals and pharmaceutical products. The total marine algal yield of the world has been estimated as 172,000 tons per year. Of this, Bangladesh contributes almost nothing. Seaweeds are dried, powdered and mixed with other meals to enrich the fodder with minerals and iodine. It also acts as useful soil conditioner, green manure and fertilizer.

Freshwater from Sea-

In terms of population growth, the world supply of fresh water is dwindling every year, and therefore, measures are being taken to obtain drinking water from all possible sources. In future, besides energy and food problems, freshwater shortage would be another big problem. This is likely to be more critical in the desert areas. Even now many undeveloped countries do not have enough water to maintain their present low standard of living. Two obvious places to look for fresh water are the oceans or the ice caps and glaciers. These two environments contain 97% and 2% of the world’s water supply respectively whereas, all the water in freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams total about 1%. Freshwater can be prepared by desalination of seawater.


Of the sixty elements present in seawater, only six are recovered commercially. These are sodium and chlorine in the form of common salt, magnesium bromine in the form of its compounds, Calcium and Sulphur in the form of calcium Sulphate. Greater possibility is also there in future for deriving Potassium, Iodine, Uranium and Gold from sea water.


The animals in the sea are a big source for new valuable drugs. Extraction of drugs from ocean is a century old business. People used to eat seaweed since it is a good source of iodine. It is also believed that cinders from the burnt spine of stingray with vinegar relieve toothaches. At present, about 2000 organisms in the marine kingdom are known to be poisonous or venomous. Sulphur and penicillin drugs developed in the early 20th century are the example of the use of toxic chemicals as a source of medicine



  1. Energy from Waves
  2. Energy from Current
  3. Energy from Tides
  4. Thermal Energy from Ocean
  5. Wind Energy

Shrimp Farming

Shrimp farming in ‘bheries’, ‘ghers’ or ‘ghunas’ (an area impounded by dyke) of coastal area is an old traditional practice in Bangladesh. However, with the increase in demand and price of shrimp in the international market, during the recent past shrimp farming has been expanding rapidly. At present, as a valuable foreign exchange earning commodity of Bangladesh, it is next to garments. There has been an exponential increase in production of shrimp in coastal aquaculture sector. This increase is mostly due to an increase in farming area, shrimp yields per unit area is very low (less than 200 kg/ha). Shrimp farms are primarily located in Bagerhat (47,710.38 ha), Satkhira (29,544.16 ha), Khulna (29,551.46 ha), Cox’s Bazaar (28,908.75 ha), the rest are in Proper, Patuakhali, Barguna, Jessore, and Chittagong.

Marine Fishery in Bangladesh

Marine Fishery plays an important role in pro-employment and foreign exchange earnings. Marine fish supply contributed 30% per cent of total fish production in 2001-02. Agriculture contributed 31.75 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product and fisheries sub-sector 5.24% percent to GDP in 2001-2002.

Natural Gas

Wherever we are in the world, oil has been a global industry for nearly a century. Due to relative difficulty of transporting gas, it was until recently, a more local and regional product. However today with intercontinental pipelines, LNG shipping and gas-to liquid technologies gas is also rapidly becoming a global industry. Around the world we are witnessing the opening up of markets in general and, what is of particular interest to us, of the upstream hydrocarbon development industry. Major hydrocarbon resource owners, from Russia and Iran to China and Venezuela, are devising new ways of working with the international energy company.

Bangladesh Oil, Mineral and Gas Corporation or Petrobangla-

Petrobangla was established in 1974 and operates as a holding company for a number of affiliates entrusted with exploration, production, transmission, distribution and conversion and the development of coal mines and marketing of coal and hard rock. Petrobangla also purchases gas from IOC but markets it through affiliates. BAPEX, established in 1989, is entrusted with the duties of investigation and exploration of Oil and Gas in the country and has capability of conducting seismic survey and drilling using own manpower an equipment and so far discovered two gas fields, Shahbajpur (1996) and Saldanadi (1997). Production of gas is done through BGFCL and SGFL, transmission is by GTCL and distribution is ensured through TGTDCL, BGSL, JGTDSL and PGCL. LPG & CNG is marketed by RPGCL and mining is done through the Barapukuria Coal Mine Company and Madhyapara Granite Mining Company Ltd. Exploration of new gas fields and the development of discovered gas fields are very important to meet the huge demand for gas use. The country has been divided into 23 blocks for quick exploration and expansion of gas resource. Foreign investment has been allowed in this sector under PSC on favorable terms. As a result, encouraging response has been received from several IOCs. So far 12 production sharing contracts excluding BAPEX (Block 11) have been signed under the first and second production contract bidding.


In modern times, 90 percent of the world trade moves by the sea routes. The developing countries shape in the world shaping fleet is 15 percent only. The events of history, colonization, blockade of India and maritime trade points towards the fact that we need to study about the Bay of Bengal to avoid repetition of the history and flow of international trade and commerce.

Bangladesh geographical location in the Bay of Bengal indicates its independence on the sea for both prosperity and security. Bangladesh’s maritime interests include a coastline of 700km extending deep into the BOB and1,66,000sq km of EEZ, augmented by numerous islands/chars of 16 coastal districts/131 Upazilla/14578 villages.More than 32 million people live in the coastal zone and another 4 million directly involved with the sea fishing with their trawlers/mechanised/country boats. Virtually all of Bangladesh’s foreign trade, approximately 90 percent in volume is transported over the sea and she earns substantial amount of foreign currencies through marine fishing. In addition, as much as 100 percent of Bangladesh’s demand for oil is met through the sea and the gas has already been found in the Bay. Everybody says that Bangladesh is floating on a lake of gas. For the last few years the Bay of Bengal region has come under focus for reasons of energy, trading, security and regional co-operation in general among the countries around the rim of the Bay.

The Bay of Bengal countries today:

Taken together these eight countries have a combined population of 1,650 million, that is nearly 27 percent of the world’s total occupying an area of more than7 million sq km and a coast line stretching to 8,300km.The BOB countries have been trading with the developed economics of either the west or east but not so much with each other. The time has come to change direction.

Trade and Co-operation Potential:

There exists an entire gamut of areas where the BOB countries can interact with each other without compromising on their political leanings, system of governance or cultural affinities. Some of the important fields of co-operation are:-

1. Oil

2. Gas

3. Energy and carbon dioxide emissions

4. Infrastructure

5. Tourism etc.

Myanmar has proven reserves of about 300 billion cubic meter (cm) while Bangladesh based on the latest shell estimates is sitting on 1,000 cm. The annual consumption in Bangladesh is 12 mcm with no export at all.

The Bay of Bengal region is home to some of the busiest sea lanes with continuous crude oilo, petroleum products, and minerals that are required to sustain the explosive economic growth in the region. The middle east crude for Japan and china in particular passes through Malacca straits and any disruption in oil supplies can have a disastrous consequences for the economies not only of the above two countries but of the region as a whole.

Complicating the situation here are the long standing political, burden, insurgency and immigration issues between Srilanka, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia.


Prof Kenneth McPherson says, “This region was the home of the world’s earliest urban civilization and the centre of the first sophisticated commercial and maritime activities. This ocean area was a great highway and source of food and raw materials moulding the man and societies on its shore into a composite homogeneous and ecological unit.” It is therefore ,expected that issue based regional cooperation can be better achieved by a homogeneous community around the Bay of Bengal and such cooperation would ultimately pave the way for confidence building in security related issues in near future. If the governments of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia including Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan come together to have a platform for regional cooperation in the maritime fields a new era may begin.

Maritime security, which is a vital aspect of a nation’s comprehensive national security, presupposes security of terrestrial area of an ocean. There is no universal legal definition of the term “maritime security”. Broadly, it entails security from crimes at sea, resource security, environmental security, and security of seafarers and fishers. These in turn presupposes sustainable management of ocean. Maritime security entails possession of and control over marine resources: both living and non-living by nations-states, which fall within the domain of a state’s maritime or oceanic zone. The Common Heritage of Mankind has several dimensions such as economic/resource, environmental/ecological, peace and security, and ethical. Bangladesh, which confronts both conventional and nonconventional maritime security threats, needs bilateral, national, regional, and global approaches to address these threats. As most non-conventional maritime security threats are trans-boundary in nature and as all SAARC members face these trans-boundary maritime security threats, a global approach cannot solely address these threats. Ocean management, compliance of it by states and pursuance of democratic principles without infringing states’ sovereignty vis-à-vis the aforementioned dimensions of Common Heritage of Mankind, ocean good governance, maritime security, human security, state

security—all are interconnected. Therefore, these cannot be dealt with in segregation. As states’ security, and for that matter, human security, cannot be ensured without thorough states’ restructuring in which an inclusive participatory democratic order needs prevailing, restructuring of ocean management on a sustainable basis, taking into cognizance of the aforesaid four dimensions, could make a regional approach toward ocean management sensible as it brings the key actors—national, regional, and global in a single continuum.

Maritime strategy of Bangladesh:

Since ancient time, the sea has been used for shipping and fishing i.e. for maritime trade and commerce. Sea is a major source of food, fresh water, chemicals, drugs, minerals, energy, land reclamation and weather forecasting for agriculture. Bangladesh coastline of some 700km offers an unprecedented opportunity for the expansion of her maritime presence and involvement in the south Asia region. Over a period of time, it has built a professional, modern and well equipped merchant maine with potential for future growth and expanding roles. As Bangladesh moves into the 21st century, the concept of a comprehensive maritime strategy which supports her overall national interests, will assume both a greater role and a broader connotation. A well defined maritime strategy will enable Bangladesh to utilize the seas to promote her trade, exploit her living and non-living resources, conduct research and environmental experimentation and foster regional/national security interests in the form of maritime assets. Bangladesh must look at the sea for security, power, and protection of her national interests. 90% of our trade is carried over the sea and over 75% of it, is carried by foreign ships. Bangladesh is one of the least developed countries supporting a population of 130 million which is predicted to reach the figure of 200 million by early 2050 at the present rate of growth. How much more can be grown by using better and more scientific agricultural inputs even for the present 130 millions, more than 60% of which is living in su-subsitence standard. The solution lies in the living resources of our territorial sea, EEZ, and oil, gas and other minerals lying on or underneath our national Continental shelf. What we do is to establish our aim clearly and the aim is to make use of Bay of Bangladesh, as should rightly be called in particular and Indian ocean in general, from both economic and military point of view. Almost all of our shipping cargoes arrive Bangladesh through Andaman sea/Myanmar coast and via Srilanka. The immediate and greatest danger lies in our dependence on external supplies which lie exposed to attack/blockade and we must make provision to defend those supplies. Moreover Bangladesh has a long coastline over 700 km and along the coastal belt millions of people survive on fishing, forestry,(more than8,00,000 hectares of natural and manmade forest in the coastal belt) salt production(yearly salt production is over 10 to 11,00,000 metric tons). We have numerous islands on our coast prominent among them are the St. Martins,Sonadia.kutubdia,sandwip,hatiya,nijhumdwip,dublar char, putney and south talpatty. We have to control the sea taking these dwips as bases and ensure uninterrupted trade flow and prevent from from smuggling, drug trafficking and piracy in the Bay of Bengal.

Measures for implementing Maritime strategy:

*Maritime consciousness

*Merchant marine, fishing fleet and ports etc

*Maritime organization, Infrastrucure and safety

*Making of an effective Navy

*Maritime diplomacy

Bangladesh- Myanmar Maritime Boundary Dispute Arbitration:

ON 14 MARCH, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) delivered its judgment in the Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. The Tribunal decided on an adjusted equidistant line as the boundary between the two countries. This was rather more in favor of Bangladesh than a median or equidistant line between the boundaries proposed by each of the two countries would have been. Nevertheless, it still gave over half as much more of the “relevant area” to Myanmar than to Bangladesh.

As is often the case with international settlement of maritime boundary disputes, there was no outright “winner” or “loser” with the ITLOS judgment. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr Dipu Moni, has claimed it as a victory for her country; but conversely, Myanmar might also claim a “win” as it received a much larger share of the relevant area while St. Martin’s island was not given full weight in the delimitation, as had been argued by Bangladesh.

Case Study Bangladesh:

Bangladesh is located on the Bay of Bengal.It has a very important strategic point on the security, political, economic, Bangladesh can make one or two deep-sea port for opening trade facilities for India,nepal,Bhutan,China and for herself also. Bangladesh can be made as the door to the Bay of Bengal for south Asian countries. Bangladesh has a vast amount of mineral resources in sea, crude oil, natural gas, fisheries, and different types of rocks. So, making the best use of these resources, she can be a sea-based country. And this Bay of Bengal is somewhat like the common market for its coastal countries. So using this sea Bangladesh can be a developed country like the East Asian countries. Bangladesh is an important strategic place for US; China.US is trying to diminish the influence of China in the south Asia and south- East Asia. Here, a regional giant is forming. That is India. So, India is a counter state to China. Strategically, China is trying to keep good relations with Bangladesh to keep India in pressure. So, Bay of Bengal is very important in this aspect. US and Indian soldiers are staying in Andaman-Nicobar islands. And china has taken lease of Coco islands from Myanmar. As, Bangladesh is on the Bay of sea, geo-strategic importance of Bangladesh so enormous. A.T. Mahan says: “Control of the sea could only be achieved by controlling those land bases that had the advantages of strategic location, coastal shape and defensive depth to their hinterlands”. He also said, whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia in the 21st century, the density of the world would be decided on its waters.

Bangladesh has a vast population. Job opportunity is very tough here. So, it’s a great opportunity to transform the population as wealth by fishing in the Bay of Bengal. We can earn a huge amount of foreign currencies by exporting fishes.

Bangladesh can be self-dependent on energy by extracting gas, oil, and other mineral resources from Bay of Bengal. But, to ensure the security of the traders and fisherman’s, a smart batallion in coalition of all the countries together is important. They will ensure the securities of all within the BOB. Thus, Bangladesh can be a rich merchant country. An important channel for trade and commerce with the Pacific Ocean countries and US is Malacca Strait. And it is near to Bangladesh. So, using this, we can be more developed in business.

South Talpatti is an offshore island, situated in Bay of Bengal. It is situated two kilometer from the mouth of international border river Hariabhanga. Its area is about 10,000 square meters and it is increasing. Bangladesh and India both claimed this Island but Bangladesh claimed it strongly about 10 years later from when it is discovered. There are no people living in South Talpatti Island because of its unstable geographic condition. India has hoisted their flag in South Talpatti Island and they established a base of their Border Security Force (BSF). No decision is concluded which country is the real owner of this Island. Technically Talpatti falls under the Bangladesh-India border. But the eventual determination of the island’s sovereignty will have a major impact over the location of the states’ maritime boundary further offshore when it is negotiated between Bangladesh and India. Its sovereignty will have the impact on our security against our independence also.


The above analysis over the geopolitical reality and its impact on the internal and external affairs of the basin countries gives the understanding that the South Asian countries can hardly avoid the Bay of Bengal for their own countries interest. Many possibilities will exist in near future for these countries, especially for Bangladesh. Bangladesh needs to be very attentive for the implementation of the suggested initiatives for its development.