Undersea Vulnerability

There are now four undersea cables out-of-service in the same general area of the Middle East (outage exceptions: Israel and Iraq) — all disabled in a three-day period last week. (tip) The cable bundle is only an inch in diameter (about the size of the average adult human thumb) — a mere speck on the ocean floor. (The fibre optics need power — up to 10,000 volts DC — so a power wire is bundled with four optical cables that, combined, are about the diameter of pencil lead.)

  • The first two, disabled on Wednesday, were 8.3 kms off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. Initial press reports laid the blame at the anchor of some unknown ship. That rationale was put to bed this weekend when Egypt’s Ministry of Communication said an analysis of ship traffic revealed this was not the culprit. In addition, the location of the cable “was in a restricted area so ships would not have been allowed there to begin with.”

    One of the cables was owned by FLAG; the firm says the cable hosted traffic between Egypt and Italy. FLAG is an ADAE company, part of the Reliance Group of Companies; Reliance is India’s largest company. Press reports are calling this a UK company and not identifying the parent.

    The other cable cut Wednesday was owned by SEA-ME-WE 4, and it served as systems back-up. (Why they were reportedly bundled together is a question I’ve not seen answered.) This “is a next generation submarine cable system linking South East Asia to Europe via the Indian Sub-Continent and Middle East.”The IHT reports that the “Alexandria harbor has been closed for most of this week because of bad weather.”

  • The third cable (Falcon), also owned by FLAG, was in the Persian Gulf, 56 kms from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on a segment between UAE and Oman. It was cut on Friday.
  • A fourth cable — between the Qatari island of Haloul and the UAE island of Das — was also damaged on Friday. Press reports suggest the cable was not cut but that its power supply (part of the cable bundle) was disrupted. Given the intimate relationship between the power supply and the actual fibre optic cables — I’m saying wait-and-see.

The Economic Times of India details global convergence and the importance of Indian connectivity to US business interests:

Last Wednesday, in the worldwide puppetry show called internet, a string had snapped. The Western world, with banks and factories and telephone networks to run, had just lost connection with its housekeeper and doorman, India. There was only one thing at stake: global business

However, others believe that more than global business is at stake, especially since Israel and Iraq seem to be the only area countries unaffected by the cuts. From ArabianBusiness.com:

“It seems now to be way beyond the realm of coincidence that a further 4th critical international communications cable should break within seven days,” one ArabianBusiness.com reader commented.

“Clearly Iran, who was most affected, would gain nothing from such an action and is perhaps the target of those responsible,” said another reader.

Peter Chamberlin also points out the isolation of Iran. He also says that “Saudi Arabia claims to have had another separate cut, which it says it has already repaired, using a submarine.”

See this 1996 Wired article by Neal Stephenson on how undersea cables work.

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One thought on “Undersea Vulnerability

  1. Pingback: Anatomy Of An Undersea Cable « WiredPen

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