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Ship slices three undersea cables

The Eassy broadband cable, which suffered a cut near Djibouti earlier this month, is likely to be fixed by 20 March, says WIOCC.

Damage to undersea broadband cable Eassy is likely to be repaired by 20 March, says the chief executive of a company that is the largest shareholder in the network.

The 10 000km Eassy cable, which stretches from Sudan to SA, suffered a cut on 17 February between Djibouti and Port Sudan, says Chris Wood, CEO of West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), which has an almost 30% stake in the network.

Wood says the rest of the cable is still functioning because its “collapsed loop network configuration” allows for the internal re-routing of traffic when a break occurs. The WIOCC chief executive also says the fault on Eassy did not have “much impact” on its customers either, as the vast majority of its data traffic exits Africa through Djibouti.

However, it was not only the Eassy cable that was sliced.

The SMW3 and EIG networks, used by Eassy to carry traffic from Africa to Europe, were damaged just north of Djibouti in what appears to have been part of a single incident.

“It is believed that a cargo ship dragged its anchor over a distance of some 150km in the Red Sea, cutting all three cables one after the other,” notes Wood.

“Most Eassy owners also own capacity on other systems and have in-built redundancy in their networks. As such, most of the Africa to Europe traffic affected by the cuts to SMW3 and EIG has already been re-routed onto other systems, both in Djibouti and via South Africa,” Wood adds.

WIOCC says the SMW3 cable could be repaired by 12 March, a fix that could restore most of the affected traffic on its direct path to Europe. The company also says the EIG cable could be repaired by the same date as the Eassy cable, 20 March.

Piracy threat?

The damage to all three cables, though, occurred in and around the area of the Red Sea, which has experienced problems of piracy – a factor that could potentially delay repair times, according to experts.

“It's a very dangerous spot to ever park a ship,” says JP Viljoen, a systems engineer at Neology, a wholesale bandwidth provider to ISPs in Africa.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Commercial Crime Services said on 15 February it received information that in the Bab El Mandeb Straits of the Red Sea “seven pirates in two skiffs... chased a chemical tanker”. The ICC Commercial Crime Services also said that in the same area of the Red Sea, on 27 February, the crew of a bulk carrier in the strait reported sightings of nine skiffs approaching their boat aggressively.

On both occasions, the alleged pirates aborted their attacks, according to the reports.

But Mike Last, director for marketing and international business development at WIOCC, says: “I don't think piracy is an issue with this.”

He notes that the time-scale of the planned repair is dependent on issues such as securing permits, sailing time and weather conditions. He says a ship from the Middle East is going to be sent to fix the cable. He did not specify when that ship would be sent exactly.

Destructive anchors

Meanwhile, reports have emerged in the last few days that The East African Marine System (TEAMS) 5 000km undersea fibre-optic cable, stretching from Kenya to the United Arab Emirates, was also cut by a ship's anchor in the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

The disruption caused a 20% slowdown in Internet speeds in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Sudan, the BBC reported.

Wood says the Eassy cable is functioning normally from Mombasa.

He adds that some TEAMS owners are in the process of re-routing their traffic onto the Eassy system in Mombasa, to reduce the impact in Kenya and other countries in East Africa while the repair to TEAMS is undertaken.

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