Mediterranean Submarine Cables Cut

by nirjhar

Two separate oceanic cable systems in the far East were severed around 0800 hrs GMT on January 30 2008, greatly impacting both Internet and voice traffic to the region. A third cable was cut at 0559 hrs GMT on February 1 2008. Omar Sultan, chief executive of Dubai’s IPS DU, said the incident was “very unusual.” He said it wasn’t known how the underwater FLAG FALCON cable, stretching between the United Arab Emirates and Oman, had been damaged.

The broken submarine cables (global map) are operated by Flag Telecom, a subsidiary of Reliance Communications, and SEA-ME-WEA 4, run by a consortium of 16 telecommunications companies. Repair time may be measured in weeks, not days, says the Renesys Blog. VSNL restored Internet Services within 24 hours by going around the world — the long way — but it has snarled Internet and phone traffic from Egypt to India. Google News and Blog Runner have the latest news.

The countries highlighted in red (above) are those whose Internet connectivity is being disrupted the most by this event. As you can see, there are several cable systems that connect Europe, the Middle East and Asia, via the Suez Canal.

According to Bloomberg, six ships were diverted from Alexandria port because of bad weather, and one may have severed the cables with an anchor, said a spokesman for Flag Telecom Group.

The FLAG cut (pdf) is reported to have taken place 8.3 kilometers (5.2 miles) from Alexandria beach in northern Egypt. Flag (for Fiber-optic Link Around the Globe), runs from Britain to Japan.

FLAG, a wholly-owned subsidiary of India’s No. 2 mobile operator Reliance Communications, was cut (pdf) around 0800 hrs GMT on January 30, on a segment between Egypt and Italy.

Another submarine Internet cable owned by Flag Telecom — Falcon — was cut on February 1 at 6 a.m. GMT, at a location 56 kilometers from Dubai, on a segment between UAE and Oman. Falcon (wikipedia) has a maximum capacity of 2.56 Tbps, with initial launch at 90 Gbps. The four fibre pair links the Gulf to Egypt and India.

In Cairo, much of the capital city was without access to the Internet for the bulk of the day, frustrating businesses and the professions. “It’s a national disaster,” said Joseph Metry, network supervisor at Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, the biggest mobile- phone company in the Middle East and North Africa. New financial hubs like Dubai has increased traffic on many of these cables.

The South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) cable, has 17 landing points. The SEA-ME-WEA 4 cable was damaged in the waters off Marseille, France, reports C/Net shortly after the first cut on FLAG. The two cables, which are separately managed and operated, were damaged within hours of each other.

How is it that Flag Telecom, Falcon, and SEA-ME-WEA 4 cables (above and below) were severed within hours of each other, although Marseille, France and Alexandria, Egypt, are hundreds of miles apart? At this point, details are sketchy and the cause is still unclear.

VSNL has a terrific interactive global cable map (above), while the SEA-ME-WEA 4 map (below) shows the distance to France. VSNL, the Indian telecom giant, bought Tyco’s 6 Terabit transpacific cable for a relative song in 2004. Now they planning a new TGN-Intra Asia submarine cable linking Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan with an additional connection to the Philippines, and potentially Vietnam. At least five new submarine systems will run through the Middle East and provide additional connectivity to Europe and Asia says Light Reading.

The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding submarine cables, says more than 95 percent of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by submarine cables, and the rest by satellite. Communications satellites generally have something like 500MHz of spectrum dedicated for upstream and 500Mhz dedicated for downstream — not much more than a typical consumer cable television system. Fiber can carry thousands of times that capacity.

On 26th December, 2006, a powerful earthquake shook the seabed off southern Taiwan (pdf).

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake was followed by one of the largest disruptions of modern telecommunications history.

Nine submarine cables in the Strait of Luzon, between Taiwan and the Philippines, were broken thus disabling vital connections between SE Asia and the rest of the world. China Telecom reported that several international submarine communications cables had been broken, including:

By the end of 2007, 25 oceanic fiber contracts totaling 112,000 route-kilometers were awarded.

Cable ships can’t just drop everything in the middle of a job. Both of Portland’s cable ships, the Tyco Durable and Global Sentinel, are expected to have plenty of work throughout the Pacific as the telecom industry rebounds. Here are Research Ship Schedules. The nearest research vessel looks like the Poseidon.

Sounds like a job for the USS Jimmy Carter. Why doesn’t anyone seem to appreciate our help?

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