Image description

International Desk
Rtnn: For about a week, gunfire from Myanmar has been targeting Bangladeshi boats, isolating Saint Martin’s Island in Cox's Bazar. 

No ships have been able to travel between Teknaf and Saint Martin’s, leaving the island's 10,000 residents in a crisis of food and daily necessities.

There have been at least three incidents of gunfire during this period. 

Shots were fired from the Myanmar border at election officials returning from Teknaf Upazila Parishad polling on June 5 and at a trawler carrying bricks, sand, and foodstuffs to Saint Martin’s on June 8. 

On Tuesday, a speedboat traveling from Teknaf to Saint Martin’s was chased and fired upon. Locals claimed that Myanmar soldiers were responsible for the shooting. No injuries were reported.

Border Guard Bangladesh has yet to issue a statement in this regard.

However, Md Mainul Kabir, director general of the Myanmar wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: "We protested on the first day this incident occurred. We will protest again through diplomatic channels. However, we understand that normal conditions do not prevail in Myanmar's Rakhine state. It is unclear who currently controls the area, but our diplomatic efforts will continue."

Speedboat owner Syed Alam said: "We stayed off the river for five days after the last shooting. After consulting with the administration, one of our speedboats transported a sick patient returning from Chittagong for treatment around 11am on Tuesday. As we reached the Gholchar area, the speedboat was fired upon from a trawler near the Myanmar border. Fortunately, it managed to reach Saint Martin’s safely, and no one was injured."

When asked about the source of the gunfire, Syed Alam explained: "Initially, we were unsure who was responsible. But today (Tuesday), when our speedboat was shot at by small boats, we saw Myanmar army ships nearby. This leads us to believe that junta soldiers are behind the attacks. Boats travelling from Teknaf to Saint Martin’s are being fired at from the Myanmar side as they cross the Naikkhongdia area at the Naf River estuary."

He added: "We are living in extreme fear on Saint Martin’s. Without any BGB or Coast Guard patrols in the area, we worry that junta soldiers could invade our island at any time. We feel very insecure."

Habibur Rahman, a resident of Saint Martin’s Island, shared: "We can't store extra food here. Daily essentials are brought in from Teknaf by trawlers, but nothing has arrived for six days. We're surviving on rice and pulses as there are no fresh supplies. Prices have doubled or tripled for whatever is available. If this continues for another day or two, we may have to go without food. Despite repeatedly asking the administration for help, we have seen no effective action so far."

Teknaf Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Mohammad Adnan Chowdhury said: "Shipping has been halted due to gunfire on speedboats and trawlers along the Teknaf-Saint Martin route from Myanmar. However, an emergency route is proposed to open a jetty to the west of Shahpari Island. I personally met with the boat owners, and a meeting was held at the DC office of Cox's Bazar two days ago. We have called on boat owners to arrange food delivery through alternative routes for the time being.”

 Myanmar conflict triggers food crisis on St Martin's Island

However, Abdur Rashid, president of the Saint Martin’s Service Trawler Owners Association, expressed concerns: "We are being told to use alternative routes, and some are even suggesting leaving from Inani. But reaching there is difficult and risky due to rising water levels. We are not entering Myanmar's territory, so why should they fire upon us? The government needs to take strict action. If not, the residents of Saint Martin’s will face serious trouble."

Aminul Islam, a grocer on the island, said: "We couldn't bring any daily necessities from Teknaf due to the suspension of trawlers. As a result, everything in the store is almost gone. There's nothing left except rice. If this continues, people on the island will be left without food.

 Another shot fired from Myanmar at St Martin's-bound boat

Mujibur Rahman, chairman of Saint Martin's Union Parishad, said: "There is a shortage of food among the people on the island. If this isn't resolved quickly, there could be severe shortages. Additionally, if anyone falls ill, they may die here without treatment. This situation cannot continue indefinitely. I have spoken to the administration, and they have assured action, but so far, no effective measures have been seen.