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One Internet cut explained, four others remain a mystery

By Agencies




A ship's anchor severed one undersea Internet cable damaged last week, it was revealed on Thursday amid ongoing outages in the Middle East and South Asia, but mystery shrouds what caused another four reported cuts.


There has been speculation that five cables being cut in almost as many days was too much of a coincidence and that sabotage must have been involved.


India's Flag telecom said in a statement that the cut to the Falcon cable between the UAE and Oman "is due to a ship anchor... an abandoned anchor weighing five to six tonnes was found."


Flag – part of India's Reliance Communications – said repair work on the cable which broke on February 1 was continuing despite rough weather, and it was expected to be completed by Sunday.


The company said repairs to its other Flag Europe Asia cable, one of two that were cut off Egypt's Mediterranean coast, were continuing and would also be complete by Sunday.


Technicians aboard the repair ship were using remotely operated submarine vehicles to check the damage, but the company did not say what caused the cut.


There was no immediate word on the state of repairs to the second severed Mediterranean cable, SEA-ME-WE4.


The damage to the first three cables caused widespread disruption to Internet and international telephone services in Egypt, Gulf Arab states and South Asia.


A fourth cable linking Qatar to the United Arab Emirates was then also damaged causing yet more disruption, telecommunication provider Qtel said.


Earlier reports said that the damage had been caused by ships that had been diverted from their usual route because of bad weather.


But Egypt has already excluded ships as the cause of damage to the Mediterranean cables thanks to footage recorded by onshore video cameras of the location of the cables which showed no traffic in the area when the damage occurred.


Yet another Gulf cable was reportedly cut, local media said on Tuesday, but there have been suggestions that one break had been counted twice.


The head of Qatar's telecoms regulator, Hessa al-Jaber, said in press reports that she doubted the damage was deliberate.


The Qatari telecoms firm Qtel told AFP the line was being fixed and that services should return to normal within days.


With so many cables cut, speculation has risen as to whether the outages, unprecedented in the region, were coincidence or something more nefarious.


"So many incidents happening in one region, whether it is a coincidence is a moot question," said R.S Perhar, secretary of the Internet Service Providers' Association of India.


"The coincidence of so many cables snapping does raise doubts about why this is happening. It needs to be answered."


He said that many Internet service providers were still only "getting 30-40 per cent bandwidth."


Some blamed companies' failure to provide backup systems for the outages.


"Many companies don't spend on restoration and protection work. They don't build alternative cable networks. That's why these problems happen," said a spokesman for an Indian telecom service provider on condition he not be named.


Bloggers have speculated that the cutting of so many cables in a matter of days is too much of a coincidence and must be sabotage.


Theories include a US-backed bid to cut off arch-foe Iran's Internet access, terrorists piloting midget submarines or "vengeful militant dolphins."


An earthquake off the coast of Taiwan in December 2006 snapped several undersea cables and hit Internet access across Asia, but no unusual seismic activity has been reported in the Middle East in recent days. (AFP)