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Summary:

Three men were arrested for planning to cut an undersea cable, according to published reports. The arrests by the Egyptian Government raise more questions than answers, for this is an atypical event when it comes to undersea cable cuts.

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When I read that three men in a dinghy had been arrested for planning to cut a submarine optical cable, I shook my head and went back to sleep. I mean, this sounded like the plot of a really bad television show, at best. I have covered optical networks (and the industry around it) for about a decade and a half, and I have never come across anything remotely similar to this claim.

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According to the claim, these guys were planning to take down the SEA-ME-WE-4 cable, which had accidentally been cut by a ship anchor about a week ago and caused wide-scale Internet slowdown in parts of the Middle East and South Asia, along with slowing down the traffic on SEACOM, the African cable that rings the continent. The SEA-ME-WE-4 cable, which is owned by a consortium of international carriers including Telecom Egypt, connects Marseille, France, to Tuas, Singapore, via the Middle East.

In its news release, Telegeography, a market-research company, notes:

If the Egyptian military’s claims are accurate, the cause of the most recent damage to SEA-ME-WE-4 would represent a highly unusual event. Deliberate damage to undersea cables is extremely rare—anchors, fishing, and geological events (such as earthquakes) are by far the most common causes of cable cuts. While there are more than 100 reported submarine cable faults each year, most damage goes unnoticed by end users, as carriers can usually route traffic around outages on other systems, both submarine and terrestrial.

The arrests are bringing up more questions than answers. For instance:

  • Is this a new kind of ransom scheme/spin on the piracy that plagues the waters off the African coasts, especially near Somalia?
  • Was this terrorism, and if yes, what does it mean for the world’s communication infrastructure?
  • Why didn’t they get a ship and drop an anchor, drag it across the cable and say, oops, we did it again.

There will be more to this story, and we will follow up accordingly.

  1. something very fishy!!

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  2. How do you catch someone trying to cut an undersea cable anyway. Are you suddenly scuba diving along and see someone sawing away at a cable……sounds like something from spongebob squarepants.
    If you were planning to cut the undersea cable, I assume you would dive from a boat. If that boat saw the Egyptian Navy arriving would they not alert the divers?? I don’t know…..I just can’t picture the events that would lead up to someone being caught trying to cut a fibre optic cable at the bottom of the ocean…….

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    1. you use an otdr to locate the fault and send out a petrol to see what is causing it.

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  3. People try to steal cable as they are dumb and think its copper. Also fiber thefts are reported in the news so you really need to research things better, e.g google and click on the first few links http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-18742280

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  4. Aren’t these cables buried to provide some protection against trawl nets and anchors of all but the biggest vessels? At least in relatively shallow water? If a cable is buried, how would they find it?

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    1. Ronald

      In most places they are buried and the depth is almost 2 kilometers – however as they come closer to the landing points, they come up higher.

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  5. Khurshid Alam Sunday, March 31, 2013

    I request USA to investigate the matter and hang the culprits from their testicles

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  6. from Sharks to Terrorists Sunday, March 31, 2013

    this happens way more often than it should. there is def something fishy regarding the middle east and their internet cables.

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  7. Billy Bostickson Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    Any updates?

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