Submarine cable risk from vessels given 'das boot' by new regs

13 Apr 2011

Highlighting the problem of major international internet outages caused by sea vessels cutting submarine fibre-optic cables, Uruguay has introduced a new regulation to be enforced by its navy, banning any anchorage or fishing involving contact with the seabed in the vicinity of undersea cable routes. The Uruguayan navy approved Maritime Regulation No. 128 (Disposicion Maritima No. 128 de la Armada Nacional) on 22 February 2011, forbidding any fishing activity that ‘totally or partially’ makes contact with the seabed, and the use of anchors, within one nautical mile of submarine communications cables. A legal representative of Telefonica International Wholesale Services (TIWS) told TeleGeography that this type of regulation and/or legislation ‘is not clearly established in most countries.’ The legal counsel also indicated that the move by Uruguay could set a regional precedent for protecting international communications links, calling it ‘a clear sign in Latin America that regulations [on this issue] must be clear.’

The regulation is notable from a global perspective, especially with several recent major outages of undersea cables suspected of being caused by fishing vessels or other shipping, for instance the cutting of the South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) high speed fibre-optic system in April 2010. Growing capacity requirements, combined with carriers’ desire for improved route diversity, have spurred a boom in submarine cable construction, making such incidents ever more likely. According to TeleGeography, demand for international bandwidth increased nearly seven-fold between 2006 and 2010, and carriers lit ten new submarine cable systems in 2010, following 17 new cables built in 2009. The research firm says 14 new cables are scheduled for completion in 2011, followed by eleven more in 2012. TeleGeography’s Global Bandwidth Research Service provides the most detailed analysis of the long-haul network and submarine cable industry available – including supply, demand, costs, and pricing analysis and profiles of around 300 network operators and over 230 submarine cables.