Despite being awarded an additional 19,467 square kilometres of maritime area in 2014, Bangladesh is yet to utilise the full potentials of a blue economy.
During a workshop on Sunday, experts made the comment and urged the government to eliminate obstacles to encourage private sector investments in various sub sectors of the blue economy, including shipping, ship-building, tourism and industrial fishing.
Blue economy relates to the exploitation, preservation and regeneration of the marine environment.
"We have been hearing about the potentials of the blue economy for a decade. But now it's time to transform those into business models, so that businessmen are interested to make investments," Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director, Centre for Policy Dialogue.
He was speaking at the workshop titled "Prospects on Blue Economy of Bangladesh and Course of Action" organised by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) at FBCCI Bhaban.
"There needs to be detailed information and data on all sub sectors of the blue economy. Then, investors will know of the opportunities present and banks will know how the investors will return back their loans," he added.
He said that 28 sub sectors were identified, with at least 16 to be prioritised now, including maritime shipping, coastal shipping, inland water transport, shipbuilding, and ship-recycling industries.
He urged the government to develop integrated management and allocate a separate budget for the blue economy for the ministries concerned.
"Not only fish or mineral resources, rather a blue economy may change the whole picture of the economy of Bangladesh. By utilising marine resources, various industries, including tourism, shipbuilding, deep sea fishing, container, medicine, and cosmetic industries can be developed," Rear Admiral Md Khurshed Alam, secretary, maritime affairs unit, said while presenting the keynote paper.
"Despite having a sea frontier, there is still a huge amount of offshore oil and gas beyond reach. Although several plans have been taken in this regard, those have not seen light. In contrast, Myanmar has already started extracting mineral resources from near the sea block of Bangladesh," he added.
Khurshed Alam said that the ocean economic zone of Bangladesh was equal to 81% of the mainland.
"There are one-and-a-half lakh ships transporting goods through ocean ways all over the world, which is worth nine billion dollars.
"74% of containers are used in Asia which opens another investment opportunity for Bangladesh, as the total trade is growing at a rate of 15 percent every year, meaning the demand for containers will keep going up," he said.
Although there are several seaports in Bangladesh, they are not suitable for mother vessels. In such a situation, the completion of Matarbari deep sea port will help to exploit the potential of the blue economy, he added.
Addressing the event as the chief guest, Private Industry and Investment Adviser to the Prime Minister Salman F Rahman said, "Blue economy is a new potential sector for investment in Bangladesh. It is possible to export billions of dollars [worth of goods and services] from this sector in the next few years."
Regarding the shipping industry, he said that Bangladesh didn't have enough ships, urging traders to identify what kind of policy support was needed to bring in more ships.
"There's a huge opportunity here; if we come forward, the sector will boom," he said.
Salman said, "Our wooden boats and industrial trawlers are engaged in fishing in the coastal waters up to 60km [within 40m depth], but we are not utilising the total 664km areas as we do not have the technology."
In addition, deep sea fishing trawlers or ships can be built jointly by domestic and foreign companies. For this, however, it was necessary to amend some policies of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, he added.
He advised the FBCCI and BIDA to work together to find why the progress of the once emerging sector, shipbuilding, had slowed and to fix the policy strategy.
Chair of the event, FBCCI President Md Jashim Uddin, said, the maritime economy could play an effective role in attracting foreign investment and creating employment in the post LDC era.
AKM Enamul Hoque Shameem, deputy minister, ministry of water resources, and Md Sirazul Islam, executive chairman, BIDA, among others, also spoke at the event.
In 2014, The International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas verdict gave Bangladesh the sovereign rights to 1,18,813 sq km territorial sea, 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone and all kinds of animal and non-animal resources under the continental shelf.
With the additional maritime area, Bangladesh found a maximum depth of 2,200 metres at the edge of its maritime boundary.