Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Burma: Burma's warships intimidate foreign oil companies in Bangladesh waters

Dispute has frustrated Bangladesh's attempts to access undersea oil and natural gas; Foley Hoag lead counsel Paul Reichler says Myanmar warships have intimidated foreign oil companies from drilling in Bangladesh waters

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 -- Foley Hoag LLP has been retained by the government of Bangladesh in two just-filed arbitration actions against the neighboring states of Myanmar (Burma) and India over maritime borders in the resource-rich Bay of Bengal.

The actions by Bangladesh were brought under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to which all three countries are signatories. The Convention provides for compulsory arbitration to resolve maritime boundary disputes among parties to the treaty, which are obliged to accept the arbitral body's final ruling.

Bangladesh negotiated with Myanmar and India off and on for several decades in an attempt to resolve overlapping claims in the Bay of Bengal, which is reportedly rich in undersea deposits of oil and natural gas. Paul Reichler, who leads the Foley Hoag team representing Bangladesh, says foreign oil companies holding exploration licenses from Bangladesh, including ConocoPhillips and UK-based Tullow Oil plc, have been intimidated by warships from Myanmar within waters Bangladesh claims as its own.

"The exaggerated claims of Myanmar and India, and aggressive actions by Myanmar in particular, have effectively prevented Bangladesh from exploiting potentially huge deposits of oil and natural gas located off its coast," said Mr. Reichler. "Unfortunately, negotiations have been deadlocked for years, leaving international arbitration as the only way for Bangladesh to achieve peaceful and lawful resolutions of these maritime boundary issues, and definitive borders that will ultimately allow it to access natural resources that will benefit the Bangladeshi people."

In separate proceedings against each of its two neighbors, Bangladesh has referred to binding arbitration its maritime boundaries in the territorial sea (out to 12 nautical miles from the shoreline), the Exclusive Economic Zone (or EEZ, to 200 nautical miles from shore), and the continental shelf (beyond 200 miles from shore).

Bangladesh's complaint against Myanmar states that Myanmar has granted concessions to oil companies that, "have engaged in drilling and other exploratory activities in disputed areas without prior notice to or consent by Bangladesh." The complaint against India states that it "denies Bangladesh any portion of its continental shelf whatsoever beyond 200 nautical miles, [and] is inconsistent with the principles and rules established by UNCLOS."

Neither Myanmar nor India has yet responded to the arbitration notifications, which were filed by Bangladesh on October 8. They each have 30 days under the applicable rules to appoint an arbitrator, or one will be appointed for them. Mr. Reichler said that arbitrations of this type can take up to 3 to 4 years from the initial notification to the final decision.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes said, "This will allow us to once and for all settle this dispute with our neighbors, to ensure that our sovereign rights to the natural resources in the sea are fully respected, and to move forward to an era of prosperity as we exploit our national wealth for the good of all the people of Bangladesh. It is in keeping with our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations to seek a solution to disputes by peaceful means. We wish to conclude by reassuring our neighbors India and Myanmar of our commitment to friendship and the pursuit of mutual prosperity."

In addition to Mr. Reichler, Bangladesh is represented by Foley Hoag partners Lawrence Martin and Andrew Loewenstein, as well as Professor James Crawford of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Professor Payam Akhavan of McGill University in Canada.

Foley Hoag has represented numerous governments before international arbitral tribunals worldwide and at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, including Guyana in its successful maritime boundary arbitration against neighboring Suriname, also brought under UNCLOS.

Source Foley Hoag LLP

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