THE International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas in Hamburg, Germany, gave its judgement on the maritime boundary dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar (case 16) on March 14, 2012. The judgement was given in line with article 287 of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea of 1982 (UNCLOS III), which states that member states can settle their disputes through any of the following means: (a) the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea established in accordance with Annex VI; (b) the International Court of Justice; (c) an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII; or (d) a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VIII for one or more of the categories of disputes specified therein.
Bangladesh’s objection to Indian claim was filed with the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Netherlands as per article 287(c). Indian claims overlapped some of our shallow and deep sea blocks within and beyond 200 nautical miles from our baselines. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has given verdict on July 7, 2014 on maritime disputes between India and Bangladesh.
Law of the sea
THE present-day law of the sea is the outcome of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea of 1958, (UNCLOS I), UNCLOS II of 1960 and UNCLOS III of 1982. According to articles 3 and 15 of UNCLOS III, every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines in the line of low water tide along the seashore of a state. As per article 17, ships of all states, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. Article 33 gives authority of a state on certain other matters to further 12 nautical miles called as contiguous zone. Article 55 allows an exclusive economic zone, an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, where the coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources. As per article 57, this exclusive economic zone shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines. UNCLOS III of 1982 in its article 76 gives rights to the coastal states to own some more areas beyond the exclusive economic zone called the continental shelf.


Bangladesh baselines
THE Bangladesh coast from its boundary with India on the Hariabhanga estuary to Kutubdia consists of many rising islands of mud. This is because about 1,400 million metric tons of silt is being carried down annually by the Bangladeshi rivers from their upper catchments, of which the major amount is deposited into the sea. As there is no definite shoreline, Bangladesh drew its boundary limits with India during the 1980s by following the silt flow line from the Hariabhanga estuary to the Swatch of no Ground, and then another line along the 180 degree azimuth southward (Line A Figure 1). India wants to continue the silt flow line from Hariabhanga to southward which cuts across some exploration blocks of Bangladesh in the shallow and deep seas (Line B Figure 1). It may be mentioned that maritime cartographer VL Forbes drew the maritime boundary of Bangladesh with India by one straight line from the Hariabhanga estuary along 180 degree azimuth southward (Line C Figure 1).

The tribunal for Bangladesh and Myanmar drew (para 202, 204) baselines for both the countries. For Bangladesh, one line was from the Mandarbaria island (east of the Hariabhanga estuary) to the Kutubdia island and the other from Kutubdia to the river Naf (land boundary terminus with Myanmar). The western boundary of the relevant area was drawn by a straight line from the Mandarbaria point towards south along 180 degree azimuth (Line C Figure 1). The relevant area was estimated to be 283,471 square-kilometres on the sea, of which Bangladesh was awarded 111,631sq-km and Myanmar 171,832sq-km areas.


Exclusive economic zone and continental shelf
BANGLADESH argued in ITLOS case 16 that (para 213) on account of the specific configuration of its coast in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal, and of the double concavity characterising it, the tribunal should apply angle-bisector method in delimiting the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Bangladesh claimed (para 217) its exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf by a delimitation line through the angle-bisector method, specifically through 215-degree azimuth line from 12nm south of the St Martin’s Island. The tribunal limiting to12 nm Territorial Sea around the St Martin’s Island (para 337) shifted the end of Bangladesh baseline at the outfall of the Naf. The tribunal, however, decided to deflect the equidistance line (para 340) for delimitation of the continental shelf, in view of the geographic circumstances of the case (para 329), to 215-degree azimuth to the southwest. The tribunal’s final judgement (paragraphs 500-505) states that the delimitation line along 215-degree azimuth shall continue until it reaches the area where the rights of third states may be affected (Line E Figure 1).


Maritime boundary with India
THOUGH the tribunal in Hamburg awarded 111,631sq-km area of the Bay of Bengal to Bangladesh; some part of it was claimed by India on a 162-degree azimuth line from the mouth of the Hariabhanga estuary. We argued on natural prolongation stated as per article 76 of UNCLOS III on the basis of bathymetric map of the Bengal depositional system. On that argument, India has no right anywhere to the east of Swatch of No Ground (Line D Figure 1), as sediment from Indian Territory does not reach there.

The verdict given by the PCA in The Hague on maritime disputes between India and Bangladesh, on July 7 is roughly shown by the line F in Figure 1. This verdict (article 509) has fixed three delimitation points from the land boundary terminus: (1) 21°38′40.2″N, 89°09′20.0″E (2) 21°26′43.6″N, 89°10′59.2″E & (3) 21°07′44.8″N, 89°13′56.5″E. From the third point it will be along a geodetic line that has an initial azimuth of 177°30´00˝ until it meets the Bangladesh-Myanmar delimitation line. According to the verdict, Bangladesh lost 6,135sq-km only, out of India’s claim on 25,602sq-km of area. The verdict arrived with four votes to one as Dr PS Rao concurring in part and dissenting in part.

With our maritime boundary settled with India we get 105,496sq-km area by tribunals (Figure 2). Added with our 13,317sq-km internal sea, it becomes 118,813sq-km area. Though the tribunals gave equitable solution to the conflicting parties, it has led Bangladesh to a sea lock position somewhere beyond 200nm of its continental shelf. In that case we have to go to the high seas through neighbour’s waters. However, the use of the superjacent waters of one country by another country for some specific purposes, i.e. navigation and over-flight, laying of submarine cables and pipelines, etc remain allowed as per articles 56, 58, 78 and 79, and in some other provisions of UNCLOS II.
M Inamul Haque is chairman, Institute of Water and Environment.