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  • Cable Theft Costs Vietnam $6M
Jun 2007
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, June 8, 2007 -- It will take at least a month to fix undersea fiber optic cable damaged by local fishermen seeking to sell it as scrap, Vietnam officials said this week, and could cost at least $5.8 million.

"We will need a long time to fix the cable, called TVH," Deputy Minister of Posts and Telematics (MPT) Tran Duc Lai said during a press conference on Tuesday and reported by Vietnam News (VNS), the state-run news service, on its Web site.

TVH was laid in 1995, connecting Vietnam with Hong Kong and Thailand. Another undersea cable, SMW3, which has a total capacity of 10 Gb/s, links China, Hong Kong and Singapore, VNS said. Vietnam has eight underwater cable systems, six of which are under foreign ownership.

"This is the first time that fishermen cut an undersea cable to sell as scrap," Lai told VNS. "It is a serious threat to national security, socioeconomic development and Vietnam’s international prestige."

Authorities have discovered five illegal cases of underwater cable theft since January. Most recently, two fishing vessels carrying about 80 tons of cable, which had been stolen from underwater networks in the East Sea, were seized in Kien Giang Province. The vessel’s owner said he was transporting the cable to sell on the mainland, VNS said.

Before, authorities in the southern provinces of Kien Giang, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau and Ba Ria-Vung Tau had recovered many tons of underwater telecommunications cables from fishing vessels, the news service said.

The Thanh Nien Daily newspaper reported on its Web site Thursday that an ad hoc committee, formed by MPT earlier this month to analyze five loads of cables seized from fishermen, said as much as 61 miles of the TVH fiber-optic cable that operates at 560 Mb/s could need to be replaced, at a cost of at least $5.84 million.

In late April, all communication through the TVH cable was stopped and moved to the SMW3. Now just that one cable connects Vietnam with the outside world, sending more than 80 percent of the country's information. If this line too is stolen, the country will be mostly cut off, experts told the newspaper.

Besides the theft of the Vietnam cable, Thanh Nien Daily said, 32 km (almost 20 miles) have also been found missing from the ACPN cable, which is also in Vietnam waters and is operated by a Singapore firm. 

The loss of communication signals over the cable was discovered in March, officials told the newspaper. An international repair vessel, the Asean Explorer, came to investigate, and left after discovering the theft. The vessel will now start its repair work next week and is likely to take 30 days, the newspaper reported yesterday.

According to the reports, the Ba Ria Vung Tau government last year passed a law permitting soldiers and fishermen to salvage unused undersea cables laid before 1975 to sell as scrap. Deputy Minister Lai told the newspaper that the ministry had not even been informed of this decision until much later. Amidst the scramble by fishermen to haul up the cables, many reportedly mistook cables in use for unused ones. Last month the province withdrew the permission and banned all forms of cable salvaging.

Lai told the newspaper that no country in the world had ever suffered such a massive loss of fiber optic cables. Authorities in Bac Lieu, Soc Trang, Kien Giang and Ba Ria Vung Tau provinces, all in the south, have seized nearly 1500 tons of cable illegally salvaged by fishermen.

Bui Quoc Viet, director of the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group’s Postal Information Center, told the newspaper that no other nation in the world allowed people to haul up unused cables for scrap because the income from it was minuscule compared to the risk of cutting off communications. One kilogram of cable fetches less than a dollar, while it had cost $13,000 to lay 1 km of the TVH line 1-2 meters beneath the seabed in 1994, the newspaper said.

"To prevent a repeat of the situation, we have to take urgent measures like increasing fishermen’s awareness of the importance of underwater cables, increasing patrols in areas that have undersea cables and stringent punishment for those violating the law," Lai told the newspaper. 

VNS said last week that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was requiring authorities to crack down on the cable thieves, telling the Ministry of National Defense to boost observation and control of vessels in Vietnamese waters where telecommunications cables were located.

The telematics ministry discussed Tuesday enhancing sea patrols to prevent such thefts in the future with the Ministry of Defense and penalties for those involved in the thefts with the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office. Earlier another deputy telematics minister, Le Nam Thang, warned that cable thefts came under the category of destroying national communications and can result in the death sentence, the news service said.

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