HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Bangladesh said on Wednesday a U.N. tribunal had ruled in its favour in a complex decades-old maritime border dispute with Myanmar and said the verdict opened the way for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal.
Myanmar had claimed rights to part of an area Bangladesh has been trying to explore. At the peak of the dispute, both countries sent naval vessels to the disputed area, which is about 280 km from the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong.
“We are happy, we are absolutely delighted,” Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said after the ruling by the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
“This is a great day for Bangladesh. All our strategic objectives were achieved,” she said, adding that Bangladesh could “now proceed” with its exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in the area.
The tribunal set the boundary of Bangladesh’s 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone and upheld its claim to an area around St. Martin’s Island.
German judge Ruediger Wolfrum told Reuters after the hearing that the tribunal had also ruled that the line dividing the two countries’ economic zones would continue in the same direction beyond 200 nautical miles.
The Bay of Bengal contains important energy reserves which Bangladesh has been restrained from exploiting because of the dispute.
“The people of Bangladesh are deeply connected to and dependent on the Bay of Bengal, both as a source of nutrition and for employment,” minister Moni said outside the courthouse.
“The legal certainty afforded by this ruling will ensure that we will be able to maximise the benefit of this important resource for the people of Bangladesh,” she said, adding that the tribunal’s ruling marked an end to the 38-year dispute.
Bangladesh, with a population of 150 million and strong economic growth, has struggled to keep running gas-fired power plants and industries due to supply shortages.
The country faces shortfalls of up to 2,000 million cubic feet of gas and up to 2,000 MW of electricity daily, according to official estimates.
It hopes to nearly triple power generation to 15,357 megawatts (MW) by the end of 2015 as it tries to improve living conditions for its people.
Bangladesh state-run oil and mineral company Petrobangla signed a deal with U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips last June to undertake the country’s first offshore exploration, which envisaged the company conducting a seismic survey between January and April this year.
Handing down the ruling on Wednesday, tribunal judge Jose Luis Jesus said there were “no magic formulas” in solving maritime border disputes.
Under the ruling, Myanmar does have a right in principle to a continental shelf over 200 nautical miles from its coast, Jesus said.
The seabed of the Bay of Bengal is formed from rocks originating from the Himalayas many thousands of years ago rather than from either country, he said. These seabed foundations could come from either of the two countries.
Reporting by Michael Hogan, editing by Gareth Jones