Why Do Undersea Cables Seem To Get Severed In Bunches?

from the fragile-internet dept

There’s just something about undersea internet cables that seem to have them get severed in groups. You may recall the various conspiracy theories that cropped up, at the beginning of the year, after four such cables were broken at about the same time, severely limiting internet connectivity in parts of the world. And, today, it seems like a similar situation, with three undersea cables all getting cut in a short period of time. All of the cuts happened in a span of less than 40 minutes, with the first two occurring within five minutes of each other. There was apparently some “seismic” activity right before the cuts, so that’s obviously the most likely cause — but it’s going to take a while to fix, and once again we have parts of the world with greatly reduced internet access. Anyway, as with last time, I’ll use this as an opportunity to point you to Neal Stephenson’s fantastic 1996 article about the laying of the FLAG undersea cables (one of the cut ones is a FLAG cable). Consider it weekend reading, and be warned that it may take the entire weekend to read (but it’s worth it).

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Comments on “Why Do Undersea Cables Seem To Get Severed In Bunches?”

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Joel Coehoornh says:

in the same place

Like someone else already said: they’re all run together, for several reasons:

1) You use a previous cable as a guide when laying new ones.
2) You only have to follow one path underwater when doing preventative maintenance.
3) Most of the cables lead from the same point A to the same point B, so there’s an optimal path to follow.
4) Because anchoring is a problem, the cable have to follow certain paths to keep lanes open for the anchors.

The reason it took 40 minutes rather than 40 seconds is that they are cables, and have some flexibility. That’s likely how long it took for one anchor to drag the first cable far enough to cause damage vs the third cable.

Lucretious (profile) says:

If anyone is interested in transcontinental cables and their history, Arthur C. Clarke has a great book with a few chapters that documents the laying of the first comm cables (morse code) across the Atlantic. the name of the book is “How the World Was One: Beyond the Global Village”.

it can be a tad difficult to find since its been out of print for years but its well worth the effort.

sonartech says:

Cable cutting ships

We also have another type of cable that frequently gets cut, passive sonar arrays aka SOSUS. Russia developed ships fitted with deep sea cutting devices meant to cut SOSUS cables. NATO recon planes have photographed these ships cutting undersea cables. Russia has sold these ships to a few other nations so it is not beyond conception that this could also be a cause.

Mark Regan says:

Thank God for GPS

Now that our modern ships have GPS accurate to withink 10 feet, thank God they do not drop anchor near any of those expensive and crucial cables.

There are apparently no legal repercussions (think Maritime torts here) or insurance availability for such when a ship’s anchor is the cause of a cable cut.

Earthquakes? Probably the cable companies have insurance for that. Terrorism too.

Seems to me, though, that a smart bunch of terrorists would figure out how to “take care of business” and bring the world to its knees by synchronizing the process of cable cutting.

Redundancy is the only solution. Serve each country by bringing in cable from different directions. Here in the US we have a InfraGard program that helps keep watch over our essential infrastructure. Perhaps it is time for the United National to create an International IfraGard.

A similar mechanism should be set up to secure the shipping lanes around Somalia and Indonesia to protect the Merchant Marine fleets secure from pirates, or else arm them with guided missiles for use in protecting themselves when threatening vessels approach and refuse to stop.

Shane C says:


I just finished reading “Mother Earth, Mother Board” (linked to above as “the laying of the FLAG undersea cables”). Took me a couple days to read it, but definitely worth the read for anyone in IT, and probably anyone that uses a computer in general. Yes, it’s 55 printed pages long (no I didn’t kill that many trees, I was just curious enough to find out), but fortunately it’s not dry reading.

Neal Stephenson does a wonderful job of interspersing history, humor, and technical understanding into one complete view of submarine cables. I frequently found myself googling different descriptions, concepts, locations, and terminology that I (a SA of 15 years) wasn’t immediately familiar with, and Mr. Stephenson didn’t have space to detail out.

Like I said, overall, very much worth the time to read it.

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