Page last updated at 01:00 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

Repairs begin on undersea cable

Fibre optic cable being loaded onto a ship
Subsea cables are often damaged by ship's anchors and seismic activity

A French crew has begun to repair two undersea cables in the Mediterranean that were severed on Friday, disrupting internet and phone communications.

A robot submarine will locate the ends of the cables on the sea bed and bring them to the surface to be re-connected.

They were cut somewhere between Sicily and Tunisia, probably by an anchor.

Egypt says it has been able to restore most of its communications by re-routing services, but other parts of the Middle East remain badly affected.

Subsea cables to Malta
A second subsea cable to Malta is currently being laid
Experts have warned that it may be days before the fault is fixed and that the knock-on effect could have serious repercussions on regional economies.

Lengthy process

Experts from France Telecom Marine arrived at the site of the damage to the SEA-ME-WE4 and SEA-ME-WE3 lines on board the cable ship, Raymond Croze, at 1330 GMT on Sunday, spokesman Louis-Michel Aymard said.

They then sent a remotely-operated submarine robot called "Hector" to the sea bed to begin the search for the two ends of each line.

It is unclear how long it will take, as a ship anchor could have dragged them several kilometres from their normal positions.

We have to fix the cable fibre by fibre, and it's a very huge cable
Louis-Michel Aymard
France Telecom Marine
Once located, the cable ends will be brought to the surface by the robot and repairs will be carried out in a special facility on the ship - a process that could take days.

"We have to fix the cable fibre by fibre, and it's a very huge cable," Mr Aymard told the Associated Press.

France Telecom said it expected to repair SEA-ME-WE4 by 25 December and SEA-ME-WE3 by the end of the year.

The third line believed to have been severed in the same incident, FLAG, is not operated by the same consortium and will be repaired by another ship.

Earlier this year, the same line was damaged off Egypt's Mediterranean coast, severely disrupting internet and phone communications for many in the Middle East for days, although only two lines were snapped then.


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SEE ALSO
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New cable cut compounds net woes
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