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News | Wednesday, 14 January 2009

More Internet Cable incidents likely to happen in Mediterranean

Charlot Zahra

An article in this week’s edition of the prestigious scientific magazine “New Scientist” has warned that more submarine cable breaks were in store for this year under the Mediterranean Sea.
“Repairs to damage caused in the most recent incident, in December, were completed last week and normal service finally restored. But more incidents are likely in what can arguably be called the internet’s Achilles’ heel,” the magazine said in a report penned by Colin Barras.
There are many data cables spanning across the oceans of the world, however there were only three across the Mediterranean Sea, creating “a tight bottleneck that links Europe, North Africa and Asia”.
In a catalogue of mishaps, on 30 January 2008, two of the three cables broke in the eastern Mediterranean next to the Egyptian town of Alexandria.
“With only one cable still connecting Europe and the Middle East, the volume of voice and internet data between India and Europe plummeted by 75 per cent,” the New Scientist report explained.
The cables were fully repaired within a few weeks, however less than a year later, on 19 December, two of the three cables were damaged again and the third one was seriously damaged between Sicily and Tunisia.
Repairs were reportedly set back when one of the main cables was broken again nearby a few days later.
The cause of the first cut was still unknown. “Although a stray anchor from busy shipping connecting to the nearby Suez Canal was blamed, Egyptian authorities remain adamant that video footage shows no sign of ships at the time of the breaks.
“Ships’ anchors can certainly break cables, and will continue to threaten those under the Mediterranean. And the likely cause of the second round of breaks - one or more underwater landslides caused by earthquakes - is not going away, either,” the New Scientist article reported.
Roger Musson from British Geological Survey was quoted as saying: “In the past, (such) underwater landslides have been associated with cable breaks.
However, he said the Mediterranean was “an active boundary between tectonic plates, making it prone to quakes. You do get major earthquakes in the area - the largest Greek earthquakes go up to around magnitude 8.0,” he told “The New Scientist”. Malta has not been spared from its fair share of problems with submarine cable, with GO’s first submarine cable from Malta to Sicily breaking twice in the span of four months.
On 18 December 2008, GO’s first submarine cable (GO-1) from Malta to Sicily was damaged at sea shortly before 6 pm, resulting in the loss of internet and voice connectivity.
Telecom Italia confirmed that the fault in the submarine cable was localised underwater 120 kilometres of cable away from Catania.
The submarine cable is 245 kilometres in length between Catania and St George’s Bay as it does not run in a straight line.
In view of the fact that there were a number of repairs to be effected by the same repair ship in the Mediterranean, GO decided to speed up the laying of its second submarine cable (GO-2) from St Paul’s Bay to Catania via the Interroute network. In fact, full service was restored in the evening of the 23 December 2008.
Until then, GO had to divert its international traffic on rival telecoms provider Vodafone Malta’s own submarine cable following an agreement between the two companies in view of the contingency.
The same ship which laid GO’s second cable, Elettra’s “Teliri”, then started the repair of the first cable.
On August 6 2008, a fault in GO’s first submarine cable between Malta and Sicily had caused widespread disruption of Internet connectivity, voice and voice over IP (VOIP) services for 12 hours.
Fortunately enough, since the fault was on land, Telecom Italia engineers managed to repair the fault on GO’s cable in Catania in time and by 7.15 pm on the same day, GO’s services were gradually restored to normal.
Melita also had plans in hand to lay its international submarine cable.

czahra@mediatoday.com.mt

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14 January 2009
ISSUE NO. 565

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