MARITIME background of Bangladesh may well be traced back thousands of years, as revealed by the maritime archaeology of the region. From time immemorial, our sailors sailed the high seas of the globe to promote trade and commerce and dialogue among civilisations. This made Bangladesh a common destination of the foreign merchants. Because of this, it became a prominent centre of maritime knowledge and craftsmanship. Small and large boats and ships were built in Bangladesh. After meeting local demands, they were exported for overseas use. As of today, Bengal (present day Bangladesh and West Bengal) ships were widely acclaimed for their architecture, speed, durability and purposefulness. These quality vessels were essential for overseas trade and commerce across the seas and to harness the maritime resources therein.
Higher learning centres of the region were engaged in cultivation and dissemination of maritime education. Acquiring knowledge from Bengal tradition, dedicated maritime seats of learning and universities flourished in the East and West since the 18th century. Following Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Myanmar, the UK and USA, and the Indian Maritime University, the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University (BSMRMU) was established on October 26, 2013, by an Act of the Government bearing number 47 of the same year. In fact, the establishment of the ever first maritime university in the country is a great success of the government and the people of Bangladesh.
The two recent historical verdicts by international courts of law have created a new vista for maritime higher education in Bangladesh. Through those epoch making verdicts of the International Treaties on the Laws of the Seas (ITLOS) we have won far reaching territories in the sea; thereby confirming our maritime demarcation lines with two important neighbours -- India and Myanmar -- by the Bay of Bengal and the adjoining Indian Ocean.
Therefore, it is essential to train specialised maritime manpower to effectively safeguard and harness our enormous ocean resources in a scientifically updated manner. To that end, with the upward trend in higher maritime education at home and abroad, the BSMRMU Act was promulgated and the university started functioning with the following aims and objectives:
* To keep pace with, and to be at par with, the progressive world in maritime related higher education at various levels;
* To cultivate and disseminate knowledge at local, regional and international levels of maritime higher education and research with a modern approach and;
* To act as a central university in maritime higher education in Bangladesh, having both on-campus and affiliating and constituent powers all over Bangladesh.
The Act provides for undergraduate and post-graduate studies in all maritime faculties -- secured ship movement management and administration; naval architecture and engineering; oceanography; international maritime law; maritime strategy; maritime security; ship building engineering; hydography; ocean resources; maritime legislature; and all other areas of maritime sciences as may be annexed from time to time. Subjects like ocean science, information technology, environment, energy, economics, business, etc. may also be opened in course of further development of the university. Additionally, it will award professional degrees along with vocational maritime diplomas and short courses, providing jobs for thousands on board international flag carriers.
In order to make the university more professional, the Senate and Syndicate of BSMRMU have been made very strong bodies in the context of Bangladesh public universities. Along with conventional members they are further enriched by six secretaries to the government from different ministries. Additionally, they provide for chairmen of Bangladesh Branch of two prestigious international bodies --Nautical Institute (NI-London) and Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEst- London), along with President of the Bangladesh Ocean Going Ship Owner's Association. Their advice from diversified angles and support from different points of view will definitely add impetus to achieve the aims and objectives of the maritime university in a concerted way. The President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh is the Chancellor of the University, which is controlled by the University Grants Commission and the ministry of education. In view of its international context, the medium of instruction of the university is English.
An important aspect of the university is its power of affiliation of academies and institutes in the country. BSMRMU, as a central maritime university, will act as a sole body to affiliate all maritime academies and institutes all over Bangladesh for graduation purposes. It may make some of them constituent ones under statutes to be framed by the University from time to time. In this context, regulations for affiliation should apply.
It is mentionable that the BSMRMU will also act as a coordination body among maritime security organisations like navy, coastguard, public and private universities, marine academies, institutions, etc. regarding higher maritime education in Bangladesh. It will set a common goal, avoid duplication in research and, thus, all maritime institutes and
academies will act in harmony.
Maritime studies in Bangladesh would not have been complete without generous contribution from the Bangladesh Navy (BN). The contribution of BN towards building a strong higher maritime education sector in Bangladesh is manifest by its constant support towards strengthening Marine Academy, Marine Fisheries Academy, etc., and recently in the formative stage of the BSMRMU.
The implementation of the Act, making the maritime university fully operative, will not only enhance the cultivation and dissemination of maritime knowledge, but will also fulfill the aspirations of the marine communities in a better way under the joint collaboration of marine and naval personnel of Bangladesh.
Thus, when nearly 90% of our export and import is carried out through the seas and when it is imperative that we protect our coastal economic and continental shelf in the sea to harness and manage its huge resources in a scientific way, we must support the role of BSMRMU in higher maritime education as is envisaged in Act Number 47 of 2013. For our security and sustainability we cannot afford to be weak at sea. Such awareness will ensure our free trade in the sea; control pollution in the sea; save our ports, harbours and coastal establishments, and survey and research on the seas; prevent piracy and stop illegal fishing in our seas. Additionally, like countries such as the UK, the USA, Japan and India, we must also ensure our presence at the Arctic zone with research vessels to establish our right there as per the provisions of the Arctic Act, 1961. And such collaborative activities in the field of maritime education and research with the BSMRMU as a common platform will help us to rise as a stronger maritime power locally, regionally and globally.
The writer is a retired Registrar of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University.