Three international submarine cables in the Mediterranean Sea were damaged on Friday, 19 December, causing significant disruptions to internet and voice traffic in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and all of the Gulf states. The fault is thought to have occurred between Tunisia and Italy. The three damaged cables are the FLAG Europe-Asia cable, operated by India’s Reliance Globalcom, and two consortium cables, SEA-ME-WE3 and SEA-ME-WE4, owned jointly by several telecommunications companies. Additionally, there were reports that the GO-1 cable connecting Malta with Sicily had been damaged on the evening of Thursday, 18 December. It was not immediately known if the outages were connected.
The current series of faults is reminiscent of the submarine cable faults that occurred in January 2008. Friday’s events have the potential to create worse disruptions: while the January 2008 accidents broke two of the three cables connecting Europe with Asia via the Middle East, the most recent cable failures have caused faults on all three. France Telecom (FT) projects that service on all cables will be restored by 31 December. Until then, many carriers in the Middle East and South Asia will need to route their European traffic around the globe, through South East Asia and across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
New cable construction should help to prevent such outages in the future, according to TeleGeography Research Director Alan Mauldin: ‘Many new cable systems are slated to enter service between Europe and Egypt in the next few years, including Telecom Egypt’s TE North cable, Orascom’s MENA system, FLAG’s HAWK cable, the IMEWE consortium cable, and the EIG consortium cable.’ Though constructing multiple cables does not guarantee against outages, the introduction of these new systems will provide additional routing options and improve resiliency.
A team of FT’s marine engineers arrived at the site of the damage to the SEA-ME-WE3 and SEA-ME-WE4 cables at 13:30 GMT yesterday (Sunday). The capacity situation had ‘improved’ in India, Singapore and Reunion by 15:00 GMT on the same day, according to an FT spokesman quoted by Reuters, whilst the Egyptian government reported that more than 80% of its internet capacity had been restored, although there remained some ‘tangible impact on call centres’. Meanwhile, Reliance said in a statement to Reuters this morning (Monday) that a repair ship was on its way to the site of the FLAG cable breakage, and that it expects to complete repairs this week. The actual cause of the cut remains unclear, although it is thought unlikely to have been a deliberate attack, with a ship’s anchor being put forward as a likely culprit.
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