Bangladesh Prevails in Maritime Boundary Dispute with Myanmar

March 14, 2012

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea today sustained Bangladesh’s claims to a full 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal, and to a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond 200 miles.

The ruling, by a vote of 21 to 1, brings to a conclusion the case initiated by Bangladesh against Myanmar in December 2009, to resolve a longstanding dispute in regard to the maritime boundary between the two neighboring states in the oil-and-gas rich Bay.

“This is a great day for Bangladesh,” declared Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni, after listening to the President of the Tribunal, Jose Luis Jesus of Cape Verde, read the judgment in the Hamburg courtroom. The judgment is final and without appeal.

“All of our strategic objectives were achieved,” the Foreign Minister continued. “Bangladesh’s full access to the high seas out to 200 miles and beyond is now recognized and guaranteed, as are our undisputed rights to the fish in our waters and the natural resources beneath our seabed. Bangladesh claimed 107,000 square kilometers while it got 111,000 square kilometers area in the Bay of Bengal.”

The Foreign Minister added that energy-starved Bangladesh’s exploration for petroleum and natural gas in the Bay of Bengal, long delayed by conflicting boundary claims, can now proceed.

Bangladesh was successfully represented by Foley Hoag LLP, led by partners Paul Reichler and Lawrence Martin. Bangladesh’s legal team also included Prof. James Crawford of Cambridge University, Prof. Philippe Sands of the University College London, Prof. Alan Boyle of the University of Edinburgh, and Prof. Payam Akhavan of McGill University.

Mr. Reichler hailed today’s decision as “a balanced and equitable result that brings great credit to the Tribunal, and finally settles a long-standing boundary dispute in a manner acceptable to both States.”

“This is a victory for both States,” the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh emphasized, “because it finally resolves – peacefully and according to international law – a problem that had hampered the economic development of both States for more than three decades.”

Myanmar had claimed that its maritime boundary with Bangladesh cut directly across the Bangladesh coastline, severely truncating Bangladesh’s maritime jurisdiction to a narrow wedge of sea not extending beyond 130 miles. Myanmar also claimed that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to award continental shelf rights beyond 200 miles from either State’s coast. The tribunal rejected both of these arguments.

The International Tribunal, based in Hamburg and known as ITLOS, was established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes between States concerning issues covered by the Convention, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries. The 151-page judgment is the first by any court or tribunal to delimit the maritime area beyond 200 miles, known as the “outer continental shelf”, and is certain to establish an important precedent in that regard.

“We are very pleased with the expertise, fairness and efficiency of ITLOS and its judges,” said Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister. “The case was resolved, from beginning to end, in a little over two years. This is unprecedented for judicial efficiency in a maritime boundary case.”

Myanmar was represented by Profs. Alain Pellet and Mathias Forteau of the University of Paris; Sir Michael Wood of 20 Essex Street Chambers; and Coalter Lathrop of Sovereign Geographic, Inc.

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