Rogue vessels cuts sub-marine fibre cable to the Middle East and North Africa

Internet

Much of the Middle East was cut off from the Internet and international telecommunications services yesterday when two sub-sea communications cables were severed.

It is believed that a vessel anchored illegally in a "closed to shipping" section of the Mediterranean close by Alexandria in Egypt was responsible for cutting both the FLAG and SeMeWe 4 cables. The two systems are separate but do lie close to one another on the sea bed at that point. It is the first time that two comms cables have been cut simultaneously and highlights the inherent fragility of such systems in areas of comparatively shallow water.

As a result of the cut, Internet links to Egypt, India and the Gulf States were were badly disrupted. India lost 60 per cent of its Web connectivity whilst 70 per cent of all Egyptian connections went down. In the Gulf island state of Bahrain, the incumbent carrier, Batelco, reported that its Internet connectivity services were "badly affected" by the outage.

It is not clear how quickly repairs can be effected as unusually stormy conditions persist in the area. Things were so bad a day or so ago that the Egyption authorities were forced to close the Suez Canal to shipping movements. Best estimates say the cables will not be fully restored for about two weeks although "degraded services" may be available within the next 24 hours.

The cable severance caused telcos and ISPs to scrabble about securing alternative routes for the disrupted traffic with the big operators using their financial clout to secure transfer of connectivity via cable routes through the Atlantic and Pacific and by booking satellite access. As multiple carriers were forced to re-route congestion increased and those still with web and phone access complained of slow service and dropped connections.

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