Cable repairs set back by second undersea break

Efforts to restore normal communications between Europe and Asia have suffered a setback after an important undersea cable broke for a second time, this time at a much greater depth.

Engineers from France Télécom had just finished repairing the Sea Me We 4 cable on Dec. 25 when the same cable broke again in a different place, this time 388 kilometers (241 miles) off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt, a France Télécom spokesman said Monday.

The repair ship the "Raymond Croz," which had just finished repairing the first break, was on its way to Sicily on Monday to pick up more cable to repair the second break, which happened more than 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) under the sea, the spokesman said.

The ship is expected to arrive at the site of the latest incident on Dec. 31 and the repairs now won't be completed until Jan. 4 or 5, the spokesman said, which would be 10 days later than originally expected.

Sea Me We 4 is one of four undersea cables that were cut on Dec. 19, disrupting voice and Internet traffic between Europe and several countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, including Egypt, India and Singapore.

Much of the traffic has been diverted across the Pacific and through North America, but this has slowed connection speeds from Europe and Asia and places an additional burden on the other cables used for rerouting.

France Télécom, which is part of a consortium that operates the Sea Me We cables, has made Sea Me We 4 its priority and is not saying now when it expects Sea Me We 3 to be repaired.

Reliance Globalcom, which operates the Flag Telecom Europe-Asia and Go-1 cables, which were also cut Dec. 19, said Sunday it expected those cables to be repaired Monday.

The first cable breaks were blamed on trawler fishing nets, a ship's anchor or an undersea earthquake. They occurred in a shallow part of the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Tunisia, at a depth of only a few hundred meters.

The latest incident occurred 1,400 km away off the coast of Egypt. The cause was likely an undersea landslide or earthquake, the France Télécom spokesman said.

The incidents highlight the fragility of the submarine cables that carry voice and Internet traffic thousands of miles between continents. The Flag and Sea Me We cables were also cut in February this year.

Asked if it was common for the same cable to break twice in two weeks, the France Telecom spokesman said: "It is not lucky, but it can happen."

Sea Me We 4 runs from Marseilles in the south of France to Singapore, connecting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and several other countries on the way. The Flag Europe-Asia cable stretches from the U.K. to Japan.

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