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Cable Repairs Underway
Feb 2008
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2008 -- Repairs on two undersea communication cables -- between Alexandria, Egypt, and Palermo, Italy, and between Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Al Seeb, Oman -- should be completed by Sunday, Flag Telecom reported today in an online bulletin.

A repair crew of marine experts and optical engineers has reached the Egypt-Italy site of damage to the Flag Europe Asia cable, reported about 8.3 km from the Alexandria cable landing station between that segment.

A ship loaded with spares, marine experts and optical engineers reached the United Arab Emirates-Oman site yesterday and is expected to carry out splice work on that Falcon cable today. The crew has recovered one end of the cable, and cable-joining work is in progress, the company said. Damage to that cable was discovered on that segment about 56 km from Dubai.

The two international submarine cables in the Mediterranean Sea were damaged on the morning of Jan. 30, causing significant disruptions to Internet and phone traffic in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and all of the Gulf states. The breaches reportedly affected an estimated 1.7 million Internet users.

"The two cable cuts leave the older SeaMeWe-3 system as the only cable in service connecting Europe to the Middle East via Egypt," said reserach companyTeleGeography in a statement. "The cable cuts have reduced the amount of available capacity on this direct route to Europe by 75 percent (620 Gb/s)."

Until service is restored, many carriers in Egypt and the Middle East are routing their European traffic around the globe, through South East Asia and across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

New cable construction should help prevent such outages in the future, said TeleGeography Research Director Alan Mauldin. "Many new cable systems are slated to enter service between Europe and Egypt in the next few years, including Telecom Egypt’s TE North cable, Orascom’s MENA system, the IMEWE consortium cable and a new cable by Flag Telecom.," he said.

The introduction of these new systems will provide additional routing options and improve resiliency, but multiple cables are no guarantee against outages, TeleGeography said. In December 2006, seven of the eight cables connected to Taiwan were damaged by an earthquake, disrupting communications in much of Asia. Cable operators needed several months to retstore service  to normal.

"Fortunately, the Mediterranean outage is much less severe," TeleGeography said.

A total of five cables being operated by two submarine cable operators have been damaged with a fault in each, it has reported. The others are the SeaMeWe-4 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4) near Penang, Malaysia, a Flag cable near Bandar Abbas in Iran, and SeaMeWe-4, also near Alexandria.

The first cut in the undersea Internet cable occurred on Jan. 23, in the Flag Falcon submarine cable. A major cut affecting the UAE occurred on January 30 in the SeaMeWe-4 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4), followed by another cut on Feb. 1 which was on the same cable (Falcon). The network was re-routed through Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia.

Almost 90 percent of Internet traffic is routed through undersea cables, and only 10 percent is done through the satellite, TeleGeography said. 

Amid much speculation, it was widely reported that experts believe the cause of damage could have been a ship’s anchor that was dragging after inclement weather conditions during that period. “About 60 to 80 percent of damages to undersea cable are due to external factors, and only 10 percent on average can be classified as component failure,” a Flag spokesman in the region told the Dubai Khaleej Times this week.

Mahesh Jaishanker, executive director of business development and marketing at Flag, said the submarine cable cuts in Flag Europe-Asia cable 8.3 km away from Alexandria, Egypt and SeaMeWe-4 affected at least 60 million users in India, 12 million in Pakistan, six million in Egypt and 4.7 million in Saudi Arabia, the newspaper reported.

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