ITU refuses to rule out submarine cable sabotage
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has said that the damage to a number of submarine cables in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf three weeks ago could have been an act of sabotage. The director of the Telecommunication Development Sector at the ITU, Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, is refusing to rule out the possibility of deliberate sabotage before the ongoing investigation has been concluded. "Some specialists doubt that anchoring ships could have accidentally severed the cable," said Al Basheer at a security conference in Qatar, "the cables are laid at great depths and in areas where no shipping is permitted."
The FEA (FLAG Europe Asia) and SEA-ME-WE 4 cables linking Europe and Asia were damaged in the Mediterranean in late January. Two days later, the FLAG Telecom Group was forced to report the failure of the FALCON cable which runs around the Arabian peninsula. A further three days later, a submarine cable between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) failed. According to reports, the latter 200km cable was not severed - instead the problem was reported to be with the electricity supply. In view of the accumulation of incidents in the region, conspiracy theories were quick to spring up. So far, however, no evidence of sabotage has been produced.
During its repair work, the FLAG Telecom Group, which is part of the Indian group Reliance Communications, stated that a ship anchoring off the coast of Dubai had been responsible for severing the FALCON cable. A five to six ton anchor was found and recovered from the site of the accident. Anchoring ships were also initially blamed for the damage to the FEA and SEA-WE-ME-4 cables. The Egyptian government, however, has subsequently stated that no shipping was present in the area of the cable in the twelve hours before or after the damage was reported. This has been determined by reviewing video footage.
Severed submarine cables are anything but rare. According to Global Marine Systems, one of the largest service providers in the field of submarine cable laying and repair, last year more than 50 cables were damaged in the Atlantic alone. The company, which states that it has the largest fleet of cabling ships and submarine vehicles in the world, is constantly deployed on all the world's oceans. The incidents in the Near East were a focus of concern in particular because they affected India, which is the global market leader for outsourcing of services. The Europe Asia cables transport the majority of data traffic from India to the Atlantic region.
The cables severed in the Mediterranean, which are now back in service, have a total capacity of around 620 gigabits per second. To this is added the 70Gbit/s of the older undamaged SEA-ME-WE 3 cable. The damage resulted in the Indian subcontinent losing around 60 per cent of its normal bandwidth. Despite the high incidence of repair work, the trend towards new submarine cables continues. According to Chinese network specialist Huawei, contracts for laying nearly 100,000km of submarine fibre-optic cable were agreed in 2007.