St Martin’s Island faces severe supply shortage amid escalating border conflict

Bangladesh, Bay of Bengal, St Martin’s Island

In the serene waters of the Bay of Bengal, St Martin’s Island, a picturesque locale known for its tranquil beaches and vibrant marine life, is now grappling with a severe supply crisis. The island, which heavily relies on mainland Bangladesh for essential provisions, is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis due to the suspension of vessel movements between Teknaf and St Martin’s Island. The escalating conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army has rendered the usual supply routes perilous, creating an urgent and dire situation for the island’s residents.

The ongoing skirmishes between Myanmar’s junta forces and the Arakan Army, particularly across the border near Teknaf, have significantly disrupted the movement of vessels on the Naf River. The Bangladesh government’s initiative to send provisions to the island was postponed yesterday as the intensity of the border conflict escalated, posing a serious threat to the safety of vessels navigating these waters.

For the past several days, trawlers and speedboats traveling on the Naf River have been fired upon from across the Myanmar border. This hostile environment has made it nearly impossible to maintain the regular supply chain to St. Martin’s Island, which has been cut off from essential supplies since June 6. The island, which depends almost entirely on the mainland for its food and other essentials, is now facing a severe shortage of supplies.

In an attempt to alleviate the burgeoning crisis, the Cox’s Bazar administration had planned to dispatch two supply trawlers to the island from Teknaf. However, this initiative had to be postponed due to the volatile situation along the border. The administration also announced that the tourist ship Baro Awlia would set sail from the Cox’s Bazar BIWTA jetty, carrying passengers, food, and supplies to the island. Mohammad Adnan Chowdhury, the Teknaf Upazila Nirbahi Officer, confirmed these efforts to ensure the delivery of essential goods to the stranded islanders.

Mujibor Rahman, chairman of St. Martin’s Union Parishad, highlighted the gravity of the situation, stating that the island’s food crisis was becoming increasingly severe. With stocks running low, prices for whatever goods were available have skyrocketed, placing further strain on the island’s residents.

The conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has had significant repercussions on both sides of the border. Locals in Teknaf have reported sleepless nights due to the relentless sounds of heavy explosions emanating from Myanmar. On Wednesday, residents experienced a particularly intense night as the sounds of warfare reverberated through their neighborhoods until 4:00 PM the following day. Eyewitness accounts describe the arrival of two Myanmar warships on the Naf River near Shah Porir Dwip, which preceded an escalation in the conflict.

In response to the heightened tensions and violence, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and the Bangladesh Coast Guard have been placed on high alert to prevent any spillover of the conflict into Bangladeshi territory.

Despite the risks, about 280 people, primarily laborers who had been working on St. Martin’s Island, managed to reach Teknaf on small boats. These boats navigated a treacherous route, avoiding the usually calm Naf River and instead braving the choppy waters on the west side of Shah Porir Dwip. This perilous journey underscores the desperation and dire circumstances faced by those stranded on the island.

Kefayet Ullah, a journalist based on St. Martin’s Island, noted that the sea conditions have been rough, making travel by fishing trawler exceedingly dangerous. Nevertheless, many island residents stranded in Teknaf have taken the risk to return home on these trawlers, further highlighting the urgent need for a stable and secure supply route.

In light of these incidents, the government of Bangladesh has formally protested to Myanmar. A foreign ministry official emphasized that no Bangladeshi vessels or citizens should be targeted and reiterated that the internal conflict in Myanmar should not adversely affect Bangladesh’s people and property. The official’s statement reflects Bangladesh’s ongoing concern over the conflict’s spillover effects and its impact on border communities.

The conflict between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army has been intensifying since February, leading to significant displacement and cross-border tensions. The Arakan Army, which is fighting for the sovereignty of the Arakan people, has proven to be a formidable adversary, forcing junta troops to retreat and, in some cases, flee to Bangladesh.

As the situation remains precarious, the immediate priority for the Bangladesh government and local authorities is to ensure the safe delivery of essential supplies to St. Martin’s Island. With the tourist ship Baro Awlia set to embark on its journey, there is hope that relief will soon reach the island’s beleaguered residents. However, the ongoing conflict poses a continuing threat to stability in the region, necessitating vigilant monitoring and proactive diplomatic engagement to safeguard the welfare of those living in border areas.

In the midst of this crisis, the resilience and solidarity of the island’s residents and the broader Bangladeshi community will be crucial in overcoming the challenges posed by the geopolitical turmoil just across the border.

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