Bangladesh’s role in combating maritime threat in the strategic Bay of Bengal

The Bay of Bengal, the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean, is of great political, economic, and cultural importance to its coastal countries of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia. With maritime trade, fishing, and tourism being the region’s most significant economic activities, it faces a variety of maritime security issues, including illicit trade, piracy, armed robbery, and illegal fishing. Incidents of human trafficking after the influx of the Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh from Myanmar in 2017, piracy, and attacks on seamen at the cargo and fishing trawlers and engine boats are increasing by the day. Crews, boatmen, fishermen, and owners of cargo trawlers and engine boats are not safe in the Bay of Bengal as the pirates attack them at the offshore areas on the sea. Particularly, the fishermen cannot go to the sea due to rampant incidents of attacks of pirates on fishermen. Fishermen of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar are suffering a lot. In this situation, the role and involvement of law enforcement agencies becomes crucial to combat the maritime security threat. The US declared an ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’ to combat traditional and non-traditional security threats in the strategic Bay of Bengal. Combating piracy and human trafficking is one of the main goals of the US IPS strategy. Regional countries such as the USA, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, and members of BIMSTEC countries can work together to deal with the maritime problems. Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies such as the Coast guard, Navy, and elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) can work together with other regional stakeholders in this regard. RAB has been playing a key role so far. For example, RAB-15 arrested 6 pirates in a raid on the Maheshkhali channel in the Bay of Bengal recently. Weapons and ammunition were recovered from them at that time. At a press briefing in the Khurushkul Ghat area on Friday, RAB commander Khairul Islam Sarkar confirmed the operation. However, the identities of the captured pirates were not immediately known. The RAB commander said that for a long time, the pirates had been carrying out various misdeeds including boat robbery, the beating of fishermen, looting, and kidnapping of fishermen at sea. On the basis of such allegations, he said, intelligence activities are carried out on the Maheshkhali channel. Later on Friday night, the operation was able to arrest the pirates. At that time, they had three guns and 11 rounds of ammunition. “We have started operations against pirates in the coast as well as in the sea,” the commander said. “We will continue this campaign.” The RAB commander also mentioned that the detainees were involved in piracy on the basis of interrogation and action will be taken against their godfathers. According to media reports, pirates have shifted their attention to the deep sea from the Sunderbans as the Rapid Action Battalion continues its raids and vigilance in the mangrove forest. Pirates regularly rob fishermen, kidnap them for ransom, and even kill them. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh government is strengthening vigilance on its water territory, especially on the coastal areas and outer anchorage of Chittagong port with a view to check all sorts of piracy. The authorities including RAB, BN, BCG and WTMC, and Bangladesh Cargo Trawlers Owners Association are taking special security measures to resist piracy on the Bay of Bengal. Despite many challenges, all regional actors should make progress on improving coastal welfare, developing the blue economy, building capable maritime enforcement entities, and strengthening mechanisms for international and regional maritime cooperation. Maritime security and countering terrorism and other crimes in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal have emerged as a focus area for India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy and the doctrine of Security and Growth for All in the Region