Bangladesh Flag Vessel (Protection) Ordinance (BFVPO) 1982 is a legal regime for the international maritime transportation industry of Bangladesh. It was enacted pursuant to the UN Convention on Code of Conduct of Liner Conference, 1974. The ordinance, which was promulgated under martial law, does not correspond with the title of the UN convention. Besides, the word 'protection' is related to safety and security-related affairs which are absent in the ordinance. The details of a ship like shipbuilding, design and structure, equipment, load line, the capacity of a ship, registration and essential safety and security-related affairs, which are usually covered in a country's flag vessel law, are totally absent in the BFVPO, 1982.
The safety and security matters of a ship are very crucial in the maritime world for the carriage of goods by sea. The Merchant Shipping Ordinance (MSO) 1983, deals with safety and security affairs of a ship. The definition of the title word 'merchant' is not given in any provision of the ordinance. The literal meaning of this word is "commercial activities" but the ordinance is about the safety and security of a ship. Both the BFPVO and the MSO are thus full of shortcomings.
BFPVO basically puts emphasis on the economic aspect, not safety and security. The aim of this ordinance is to promote and encourage the growth of the local shipping industry. The non-obstant section 3 of the ordinance states that at least 40 per cent of the foreign trade cargoes of Bangladesh shall be carried by Bangladesh flag vessels in conformity with the convention and UNCTAD. Another salient feature of this ordinance is to ensure that the state-owned Bangladesh Shipping Corporation (BSC) gets much of the market share of the cargoes moving from and to Bangladesh. If any Bangladeshi flag vessel wants to join a liner conference, it needs to get a license from the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD).
However, a positive side of the ordinance is that it prohibits coastal trading in Bangladesh by foreign vessels.
Carriage of cargo by sea is a matter of safety and security of a ship which is totally absent in the BFVPO. It seems that the ordinance deals only with economic protection. Despite enjoying such economic protection, the state-owned Bangladesh Shipping Corporation (BSC) has only two ships in its fleet. This is a matter of concern and investigation. When Bangladesh flag vessel is not available, importers and exporters of Bangladesh, subject to waiver certificate from the Mercantile Marine Department or MMD, can charter foreign vessels.
Now, Bangladesh can build world standard ships, It is second in the ship-breaking industry in the world. But in the maritime transportation industry, its position is not so favourable. Bangladesh is an import-oriented country and our export is not in a position to utilise the ballast voyage of visiting ships to Chittagong port or Mongla Port. When the proposed export processing zones will come into operation then export will definitely jump.
India wants to use our ports for carriage of cargo by the sea. This is directly related to economy and security of a State. Carriage of Indian cargo by Bangladeshi flag vessels can create a big opportunity from any transhipment treaty. If it happens, it will be cost-effective for Bangladeshi flag vessels by reducing ballast voyage and fixed operating cost. It will definitely help Bangladeshi flag vessels survive in the world competitive maritime transportation industry. It is essential to remove the loopholes in the laws governing the sensitive maritime sector. The prospects of blue economy of the country depend much on effective governance and policies of maritime transportation industry.
The writer is a student of LL.M Maritime Law, Faculty of Maritime Governance and Policy, BSMR Maritime University, Bangladesh.