Does piracy off the coast of Bangladesh pose a threat? The answer is yes. Is the threat external or internal? The answer is both. While Bangladesh has long-running conflicts with its neighbors over maritime boundaries which are being solved amicably, the latest threat is now emerging from maritime piracy. How is maritime piracy threatening Bangladesh and to what extent?
Recently, several dozen fishermen were abducted from the Sundarbans. A total of 11 piracy events took place off the coast of Bangladesh in 2012. What are the factors behind maritime piracy in Bangladesh? Maritime piracy in Bangladesh is the result of a set of interrelated factors. Factors associated with the failure of law-enforcing agencies, a culture of impunity and poverty induced criminality.
The first set of factors basically stems from inefficiency and corruption of law-enforcement agencies. Most significantly, inefficiency within Bangladesh’s Coast Guard (BCG) which is charged with maintaining security for the maritime zone around Bangladesh, is overstretched, the result of a shortage of manpower and equipment. Founding Director General of BCG has suggested that the BCG is comprised of only 2,000 persons who need better equipment and more than its current fleet of 11 vessels. Eight vessels are 30 years old and cannot operate during the monsoon season. Importantly, it will be interesting to watch how Bangladesh’s Coast Guard utilizes a decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard Cutter that was transferred to their custody in 2013.
The second set of factors is associated with the failure of crime prevention and reduction. As reported by Bangladeshi media last month, police take bribes from drug dealers and criminals in Cox’s Bazar. Criminals commit crimes more and more because they know police will not arrest them. The third set of factors has been identified as poverty related.
The less work that is available, crime will increase. The implications of maritime piracy for Bangladesh are far-reaching. The livelihood and survival of many thousands of people from 16 coastal areas are dependent on fishing in the rivers in and around the Bay of Bengal. Around one million people are dependent on fishing alone in the Cox’s Bazar alone. The lack of personal security in maritime zones poses a threat to their livelihoods.
In the last five years, pirates have killed at least 411 fishermen and wounded at least 1,000 more, suggested Mujibur Rahman, Chairman of Cox’s Bazar District Fishing Trawler Owners Association (DFTOA). According to the DFTOA, pirates attacked more than 1,000 fishing boats, abducting more than 3,000 fishermen, killed over 45 and collected more than 1.28 million USD in ransoms from fishery owners of two coastal towns – Chakaria and Maheshkhali, alone from late 2011 to late 2012.
Attacks on Bangladesh’s fishing industry have profound implications for the national economy. The country will face significant economic losses if piracy cannot be controlled. Mujibur Rahman argues that coastal fishermen contribute 25-35% of the nation’s total catch which declined during fiscal year of 2012-2013.
This is the right time to combat maritime piracy. The policy of combating piracy must have two approaches: traditional and non-traditional. Otherwise, it cannot work properly. What does the traditional and non-traditional approach mean? The traditional approach is the way of preventing crime through the use of military force. But, this is not the permanent solution. Suppose the law-enforcing agencies conducted operations, seized pirates and thus reduced the crime but criminals were not provided job and earning facilities.
The problem will remain if these pirates are not rehabilitated back into society. Here is the essence of a non-tradition approach which embraces a series of tasks, for example providing basic needs to the criminals, educating them, employing them in different job sectors and reintegrating them into society. Anti-piracy social awareness campaigns can also be conducted countrywide.
While maritime piracy has been extensively covered when it is occurring off the coast of Somalia, the increase in piracy off the coast of Bangladesh must also be addressed.