on Tuesday 27 February, 2024

At least one subsea fiber cable damaged in the Red Sea, some reports blame Houthi rebels

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Several subsea cables have reportedly been damaged off the coast of Yemen, with some press suggesting terrorist groups are to blame.

One cable operator has confirmed damage to a cable in the region, but said it didn’t know the cause yet.

Israeli press including the Jerusalem Post and Globes suggest four cables - AAE-1, Seacom, Europe India Gateway (EIG), and TGN systems - have been damaged in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen (though Seacom and TGN are actually one system operated by Seacom and Tata Communications).

The publications claim the damage to the cables was a result of attacks by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Globes reports repairs could take up to eight weeks.

DCD has been unable to confirm the reports and has reached out to a number of companies involved with the affected cables including Seacom, Tata, Ooredoo, Bharti Airtel, and Telecom Egypt. We will update as we hear back.

Internet monitoring firm NetBlocks confirmed Internet services in Djibouti had been disrupted, possibly due to cable damage.

"Metrics show a disruption to network connectivity at the Djibouti data center which connects the country's landing stations," the company said on X (formerly Twitter).

Seacom, however, has seemingly confirmed in the African press that it is having cable issues, but didn't go so far as to point the blame at any group.

The company said it has suffered an outage on the Seacom/TGN system, telling ITWeb Africa and others that disruption is affecting the segment of the cable that runs from Mombasa (Kenya) to Zafarana (Egypt).

However, Seacom said it was "unable to confirm the cause of the disruption" and was working to assess the feasibility of the repair in the region.

“The location of the cable break is significant due to its geopolitical sensitivity and ongoing tensions, making it a challenging environment for maintenance and repair operations,” said the company.

Seacom continued: “All other IP-based services destined for Europe and other regions were automatically rerouted via SEACOM’s alternative routes on Equiano, PEACE, and WACS cable systems and supported by its diverse terrestrial infrastructure, ensuring its clients remain operational with some latency in their Internet communications.”

After saying authorities were looking at a possible terror link, Flag Telecom founder and telecoms entrepreneur Sunil Tagare said on his social media accounts that it was “confirmed” the cables had been cut by Houthis – without saying where the confirmation had come from.

He also posted that no cable ship provider was willing to provide repairs in the area and that insurance companies would cancel policies for cable ships attempting to operate in Yemeni waters. Again, DCD hasn’t been able to confirm these claims.

The Iran-linked Houthis – officially known as Ansar Allah – have been attacking commercial ships passing by Yemeni water since November. More than two dozen ships have been attacked by drones, missiles, and speedboats.

Last year Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) – a think tank founded by a former Israeli Intelligence officer and a political scientist described as a neoconservative and revisionist Zionist on Wikipedia – said Telegram channels reportedly affiliated with the Houthis had made implied threats against subseas cables in the Red Sea.

This news was later picked up in mainstream media worldwide. Government ministries and telecoms firms backed by the UN-recognized government condemned the reported threats to the region’s cable infrastructure, while Houthi-backed agencies have labeled the posts “fabricated lies.”

Around 17 cables currently or are planned to run through the Red Sea and link Asia to Europe. Like the Suez Canal in Egypt, the Bab al-Mandab Strait is a natural bottleneck between the Middle East and the coast of Africa.

Also known as the Gate of Grief or the Gate of Tears, the 26 km (14 mi) strait between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden (which leads to the Indian Ocean).

While it reaches a maximum depth of 3,040 m (9,970 ft) in the central Suakin Trough, the Red Sea averages a depth of around 490 m (1,610 ft). At its shallowest, however, some points are at depths of as little as 100 m (330 ft).

Some military experts have said the Houthis may have the ability to damage cables via trained divers or explosive mines.