Reviewing the New Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act
After winning disputes with India and Myanmar, the sovereignty of Bangladesh concerning territorial waters has extended. As a result, Bangladesh has got a new command over the Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Contiguous Zone. To have proper control over the maritime boundary as well as to sustain, protect and persevere the marine resources, the government of Bangladesh has enacted a new legislation, Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones (Amendment) Act, 2021.
The new Act seeks to amend the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974. The provisions of the 1974 Act were not coherent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and were proposed to be amended since the UNCLOS 1982 entered into force later.
The new amended Act of 2021 has a completely new overhaul regarding maritime zone and has brought several changes to the provisions of the previous law of 1974. The Act has inserted several new definitions in section 2 such as Artificial Island, Continental Margin, Dumping of wastes, Martine Pollutions Installations, Internal Waters, Maritime Zones, Maritime Tribunal, Blue Economy, Seabed, Nautical Miles, Waste, and Warship.
The newly added provisions address the sovereignty of Bangladesh over Internal Waters regarding water column, the seabed and its subsoil, and the air space, the extraterritorial application of Act which means Bangladesh has jurisdiction of trial against any person or vessel for any offense even if the offense committed outside of the Maritime Zones.
Additionally, new 3A, 3B and 3C have elucidated the Rights of Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea, criminal and civil jurisdiction over a foreign ship in the Territorial Sea, and the explanation of Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV), Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV).
The new Act referred the jurisdiction and sovereign power of the Bangladesh government over the Contiguous Zone, EEZ and the prohibition on the exploration or exploitation in the EEZ. Under section 5, the government has power over the EEZ concerning exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of the natural resources and exclusive rights and jurisdiction for construction, maintenance or operation of an artificial island, off-shore terminal, installations and other structures and control of marine scientific research, to preserve and protect the marine environment and to prevent and control marine pollution. Additionally, section 5A bars any person to conduct any kind of exploration of the marine biodiversity without authorisation from the government.
Moreover, sections 7, 7A and 7B specifically address the Continental Shelf of Bangladesh, Rights and jurisdiction in the Continental Shelf. Similar to the EEZ, Bangladesh has jurisdiction over the Continental Shelf regarding authorisation and regulation of the construction, operation, maintenance and use of artificial islands, off-shore terminals. section 7B bars any person from exploiting the natural resources in the continental shelf without authorisation from the government. New provisions regarding the High Seas are mentioned in section 7C.
Section 7F addresses provisions of Blue Economy and under the new legislation, the Government of Bangladesh may make policies, work-plan and implement economic activities that directly or indirectly take place in the Maritime Zones. Coupled with this, to enrich the blue economy and to enhance the economic benefits, the government of Bangladesh takes appropriate measures for sustainable use of marine resources or minerals, including through sustainable management of fisheries, mariculture, marine tourism, marine biotechnologies, marine transportation, development of ports and harbors, shipbuilding and recycling.
Furthermore, section 7H embodied Marine scientific research, Hydrographic survey and Military survey and use of research as well as a survey in Territorial Sea, EEZ and Continental Shelf.
To control marine pollution, the government can make rules under section 8 and for marine pollution, the punishments are three years' imprisonment with a minimum of two crore BDT to maximum of five crore BDT as monetary fine. Previously it was five thousand BDT only. For the failure to take any actions to prevent pollution, the punishment is five years imprisonment with a fine not less than ten crore or both.
In the previous provisions of the 1974 Act, if any robbery or theft took place in shipping ports, those were termed as 'piracy'. In the new amendment, piracy, armed robbery, maritime terrorism, theft and unlawful acts against safety of maritime navigation are defined to categorise different crimes.
With new amendments, the government has the power to punish for the violation of innocent passage, for contravention of the law by submarine or any other underwater vehicle, for throwing nuclear or hazardous wastes, for breaking or injuring a submarine cable, telegraphic or telephonic communications.
With amendments under the Act of 2021, Bangladesh has strengthened its maritime law. Since the provisions are in sync with the UNCLOS, the new provisions have vested new jurisdictional power and have given several rights to enjoy over the maritime boundary. With the new provisions, the government of Bangladesh can control marine pollution and take appropriate measures to sustain, preserve the marine diversity and boost the blue economy.
The writers are lawyers of MCLaw Services, being the Head of the Chambers and Apprentice lawyer of MCLaw Services respectively.