Territorial Waters

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Territorial Waters an area of sea over which a coastal state generally claims rights. Most commonly, this area extends to a distance of 22.2 km/12 nautical miles from the shore, but, increasingly, states claim fishing and other rights up to 370 km/200 miles. Pursuant to the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974, Bangladesh is exercising 12-mile territorial jurisdiction and 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Act specifies continental shelf as comprising seabed and subsoil of the submarine area up to outer limits of the continental margin bordering on the ocean basin or abyssal floor (article 7). The sea zones so prescribed are in conformity with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982. Bangladesh is a signatory to this convention.

The coast of Bangladesh is curved, indented and unstable and the coastal bay has been shoaling up owing to deposit of a colossal amount of silt, mud and particles carried by the mighty rivers Padma/Ganges and Brahamaputra/Jamuna and Meghna and their distributaries to the Bay of Bengal. The result of sediment deposits, monsoon rains, cyclonic storms and tidal surges is that the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta has no stable water line landward or seaward. The continual process of alluvion and sedimentation forms mudbanks, and the coastal water area is too shallow to be navigable except by small boats. The channels through the mudbanks are also constantly changing and require soundings by a physical survey, preferably by joint survey of the littoral states of the area.

Due to this phenomenon, Bangladesh has prescribed 10-fathom depth line for delineation of baselines to measure territorial sea, contiguous zone, EEZ and the continental shelf. Since the coastal bay is constantly changing, the baseline delineated even by depth criterion cannot be stable. It needs to be surveyed from time to time and measures taken accordingly. Specifically, the island of South Talpatty (New Moore) emerged in the estuary of the Haribhanga (which borders Bangladesh and India) and Raimangal rivers. It is believed that this island, known as South Talpatty to Bangladesh and as New Moore to India, was formed after the cyclone and tidal bore of 1970, rising initially as a low tide elevation. It has U shaped formation with the eastern arm elongated towards the north. Bangladesh lay claims to this island because the midstream of the border river Haribhanga flows to the west of the island. [M Habibur Rahman]