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Cable ship finally departs to fix broken submarine cables

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 23 Jan 2020
Cable ship Leon Thevenin.
Cable ship Leon Thevenin.

Cable ship Leon Thevenin finally departed Cape Town Harbour last night at about 21:30 and will sail to offshore Angola where the first steps of the physical repair on damaged undersea cables – South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable (SAT3/WASC) and the West African Cable System (WACS) – will commence.

Strong and gale force winds in the City of Cape Town last week and over the weekend delayed the operations of the cable ship.

In a statement this morning, Openserve says following delays caused by weather conditions last weekend, loading of the vessel with all gear and material required for the undersea cable repairs was completed by 17:40 yesterday.

The Leon Thevenin then set sail from South African shores with chief of mission Didier Mainguy and 53 other crew members on board. A senior representative from the WACS and SAT3 consortium forms part of the ship’s crew.

The Leon Thevenin is a French cable-laying vessel named in honour of French engineer Leon Charles Thevenin. It was famously used in conjunction with a robot submarine named Scarab 1 for recovering the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder boxes from Air India Flight 182 that was destroyed in mid-air by a bomb as it was crossing Irish airspace, on 23 June 1985.

Earlier this week, Openserve said fixing the two submarine cables that snapped simultaneously last week will be a complex task.

Since then, the Telkom subsidiary has been liaising with the WACS and SAT3/WASC undersea cable consortiums to determine the cause of the loss of service on both submarine cable systems.

The WACS and SAT3/WASC cable systems are deployed in the Atlantic Ocean and connect SA and many other African countries to Europe.

The WACS system lands in SA at Yzerfontein, Western Cape, while the SAT3/WASC system enters the country at Melkbosstrand, Western Cape.

Through continuous liaison with the technical fault investigation teams of both cable consortiums, Openserve has ascertained the SAT3/WASC break is in the Libreville, Gabon, vicinity and the WACS break point is in the vicinity of Luanda, Angola.

Openserve last week said the unusual and simultaneous dual cable break resulted in customers that are connected to Openserve’s global capacity clients experiencing reduced speed on international browsing.

International voice calling and mobile roaming were also impacted, it noted.

Telkom, through its infrastructure provisioning division Openserve, and many other South African and internationally based licensed operators hold equity in these cables.

The capacity that wholesale operators hold is sold on to Internet service providers (ISPs) and other industry players that require international connectivity.

The undersea cable systems are consortium-run and the maintenance and operations sub-committees of these consortiums are responsible for the repairs that are required for restoration of full service.

In its statement today, Openserve says weather conditions permitting, it is anticipated that the vessel will reach its first repair site on the evening of 28 January.

The vessel has been dispatched from the Cape Town Harbour, by the Maintenance and Operations Sub-Committees of the SAT3/WASC and WACS consortia due to a simultaneous dual cable break that occurred in the early hours of last Thursday, 16 January.

The breaks have resulted in South African Internet users, whose ISPs are connected to international connectivity on both or either of these cable systems, experiencing reduced speed on international browsing and in some cases increased latency.