Boosting maritime security
The proverb "one who rules the sea, rules the land" is no more directly applicable for this modern and civilized era but hasn't lost its full spirit if we think differently.Traditional concept of maritime security means protecting a state against fighting war and restore peace in the seas; and known as traditional threats against maritime security.
The modern concept of maritime security has shifted paradigmatically to mean not only to protect against war but also to ensure security from crimes at sea, security of seafarers, and particularly security of the marine resources, which are popularly known as non-traditional threats to maritime security.
In practice, maritime security has moved well beyond the traditional concepts of naval or military threat although, of course, the protection of sovereign interests against military force remains a fundamental issue for any government. As a coastal state, maritime security is always an important factor for Bangladesh; and more crucial after achieving a large maritime area in the Bay of Bengal.
Very recently, India has signed a 20 year agreement with Seychelles, a country in East Africa to build an airstrip and a jetty for its navy in the island chain. Needless to say, the arrangement is a clear strike forward by India to strengthen and establish its control in the Indian Ocean not only for traditional maritime security purpose but also for protection of its marine resources in the Ocean. Before analyzing the current level of the maritime security of Bangladesh, we should analyze the non-traditional threats to maritime security which the government of Bangladesh should be prepared to combat.
The non-Traditional threats to Maritime Security of Bangladesh are illegal fishing, poaching, exploration of oil and gas, extraction of minerals; deliberate pollution of marine environment, armed robbery, piracy; illegal trafficking of arms, drugs and humans; hijacking and sabotage, terrorism, mercenary activities and maritime insurgency operations, and illegal trade.
Illegal entry and departure from the seas have drawn focal attention in the last 5 years as per the illegal migration issues across the Bay of Bengal. Transferring illegal arms and ammunition have been portrayed by the media for many years. There had been an unending stream of reports in all newspapers of entry of illegal arms and weapons through sea ports. Moreover, oil- related disaster is also a new dimension of non-traditional threat to maritime security. Oil spills can seriously affect the flow of merchant shipping traffic to and from Bangladesh.
According to Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Maritime security has two aspects: macro and micro issues, where Bangladesh needs a strategic plan based on these issues to combat threats to its maritime security. A M Azaher Joy, a researcher mentions that the maritime security of Bangladesh is insufficient and the strategy, plans and actions are inadequate. Maritime Security is no more a factor of national security rather an important element of sustainable ocean governance.
Routine maritime patrolling is one of the multi-layered approaches to maritime security that Bangladesh could employ to protect national interests. The maritime area of Bangladesh is very important not only for national security but also for marine resource therein. About 90% of our external trade is done through sea routes. Huge deposits of hydrocarbon resources have made this sector valuable.
Marine fisheries are one of the largest export earning sectors for Bangladesh. Moreover, Tourism industry of Bangladesh also heavily depends on it. The importance of the marine resources in the national economy of Bangladesh will grow more in the coming years because of extraction of large deposits of minerals.
Bangladesh will face a number of challenges directly or indirectly in many ways to protect these resources. At this stage, Bangladesh needs to make it an important issue in combating the non-traditional threats against maritime security rather than restrict itself to address traditional threats. Addressing these varied challenges today requires a wider range of capacity building initiatives and policies.
Maritime security includes multi-level approaches, for example, Surveillance for the detection of activities, events or changes in condition within the area of ocean jurisdiction; Monitoring the systematic observation of specific activities, events, or conditions of the marine resources; applying and monitoring international and national rules and regulations; or other responses as appropriate for combating the non-traditional threats.
The Navy Ordinance 1961 along with some amendments up-to 2016 is based and focused on the traditional concept of maritime security against any war - where the non-traditional threats are not addressed. The Government of Bangladesh enacted the Coast Guard Act, 1994 and formed Bangladesh Coast Guard for patrolling and surveillance of the maritime area, which was a partial step towards combating non-traditional threats against maritime security.
The most praiseworthy initiative to address the issues of non-traditional threats is the enactment of 2016, Coast Guard Act. The Coast Guard (Amendment) Act 2016 has been enacted with the strategic Objects of protecting the sovereignty of the maritime and other coastal area; preventing offence in the areas, establishing right over the maritime resource, preventing illegal entry, ensuring the security of adjacent land area; and protecting national interest therein.
The Act provides for establishment of a Coast Guard Court. The enactment of this legislation is apparently a time-worthy step towards combating non-traditional threats. But the problem is in little focus on and progress in the capacity building of the Coast Guard and inadequate technological equipment for them.
No doubt that Bangladesh Navy has achieved a remarkable development by promoting to three-dimensional level while the Coast Guard is still far behind. The Government of Bangladesh should understand that this is the era of non-traditional maritime threat rather than traditional aspects. We should focus in the capacity building and modern equipment for the Coast Guard on priority basis unless we fail to protect our marine resources within our maritime area in the Bay of Bengal.
The writer is Faculty Member of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University Bangladesh & PhD Fellow of the International Ocean Governance Centre, Australia