Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen has said that Bangladesh is eying at sustainable maximum utilisation of its maritime resources towards realising 'Vision 2041' to become an industrial, digitally prosperous country by 2041.
The minister came up with the remarks while delivering his speech during the Regional Conference on 'Connectivity in the Indo-Pacific (Ocean) Reconnecting peoples, facilitating human development for prosperity of all from the Bay of Bengal' held at Independent University on Sunday.
The Indian Ocean is rich in untapped natural resources, with some of the world's largest reserves of gas and other seabed minerals, as well as, it is increasingly believed, about the presence of oil. Linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Bay of Bengal occupies a central position in relation to global economic ﬂows in a way that few other regions do.As a strategic funnel to the Malacca Straits and Lombok Strait, the region has been an important location in the strategic calculations of the great powers of the world and has grown in strategic importance for China and Japan, and India as well. This is primarily due to the fact that half of the world's container traffic passes and whose ports handle approximately thirty percent of world trade thus becoming the "economic highway of the world".
Its global significance is further reiterated as one of the world's largest fishing grounds, providing approximately fifteen percent of the world's total fish catch (approximately 9 million tons per annum), said the minister.
Despite its status as a key maritime role in global terms and all its economic promise, its potential is hamstrung by a lack of close internal economic integration among the countries that call the region home. The prospects for conflict and or cooperation in this region are affected by multidimensional factors. A variety of transnational threats like trafficking of narcotics, drugs, weapons and people; the illegal exploitation of natural resources; border disputes, refugee flows, rebel insurgencies and terrorist groups or natural disasters that disrupt regional stability compound the challenge of making the Indian Ocean integrated, said Momen.
The minister said that the maritime order in the Indian Ocean is calm but fragile, primarily because the region lacks overarching security architecture and faces a diverse range of traditional and non-traditional security threats. What is needed is the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The world's centre of political and economic gravity is moving eastwards to Asia and Africa. The importance of Indian Ocean or the Bay of Bengal need no reiteration especially for many countries whose existence, prosperity and security were, and always will be, intimately linked to it
Estimates of density vary with the maximum of over 41000 ships passing over the Malacca Strait areas in a year and to the non-seafarer, such a figure, promotes a view of a dangerously unregulated, overcrowded shipping movements/environments. Collisions and grounding continue to be a very real threat to ships here and in other areas of high traffic density. Maritime piracy remains a comparatively low key but a very real problem in several parts of the world, particularly in Somalia and Southeast Asia, he said.
While merchant shipping is being increasingly recognized as essential for economic development, transportation of about 60% of world crude oil and its products along the oil tanker routes across the Bay of Bengal has rendered these waters also prone to oil pollution. Oil spills can occur anywhere at sea and have no respect for national boundaries, said Momen.
"The importance of monitoring the enhanced greenhouse effect and the possibility of long-term climate change, global warming and rising sea levels and their particular effects on some regional countries demands for a multidisciplinary approach for coordination among all Meteorological stations of the countries of the region and the World Meteorological Organization."
"Bangladesh may broaden and deepen our alliance cooperation and encourage the possible economic and security engagement with the littoral states under the umbrella of the Indian Ocean Rim Association of which we would be taking over as the Chair this year and at the same time strengthen Bangladesh's Comprehensive and Strategic partnership with other countries which are also vital for both to pursue extensive bilateral interests," said the minister.
Bangladesh, under the Prime Minister, has embarked on an ambitious plan to achieve its long-cherished goals engraved in its Vision 2021 and Vision 2041. The concept of Indo-Pacific Ocean would help Bangladesh to improve its connectivity and investment climate, promote blue economy as well as strengthening measures against terrorism and other organized crimes in the maritime sphere. Bangladesh looks at the initiatives primarily from a development point of view and thus considers them complementary – not competing or contradictory, said the minister.
The waterways through the region are strategically important for merchant, fishing and naval vessels. As the maritime environment is basically an international one, where issues and interests, are not restricted to national boundaries alone, the advantages of multilateral cooperation in maritime matters are also expected to grow, said Momen.
The key challenge is continuing to shift the mindsets of officials to recognize the vital importance of the maritime domain as part of a comprehensive national security strategy. Greater certainty and more stability will only be achieved through institutionalizing the regional dialogue and cooperation among regional organisations to accommodate and harmonise great diversities of the region, he added.