Ship impounded, crew arrested for net blackout

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The UAE has impounded a ship allegedly responsible for damaging undersea cables that caused weeks of disruption to internet and international telecoms services across much of the Middle East and Asia in February.

Dubai police have arrested two sailors found on board the vessel, owned by an Iraqi company, and will refer them to Dubai Public Prosecution next week, UAE daily Khaleej Times reported on Saturday, citing a police source.

A second ship, thought to have been responsible for the cable damage as well, was also impounded, but has since been released after paying "huge" compensation to India's Flag Telecom, owner of two of the four affected cables.

Two intercontinental cables connecting Europe and Asia were cut off the coast of Egypt on January 30, followed just days later by breaks in two more cables off the UAE coast.

The initial breaks affected internet access and international calls in Egypt, the Gulf and south Asia, while disruption resulting from damage to the latter two was centred around the Gulf region.

Khaleej Times did not say in its report which cable breaks the two impounded ships were thought to have been responsible for.

Flag owns one of the two intercontinental cables, called Flag Europe-Asia, and one of the cables off the UAE coast, called Falcon.

The location of the breaks and short space of time in which they have happened sparked speculation that they could have been an act of sabotage, with some speculating that the cables were intentionally damaged by the US and Israel to deprive Iran of internet access.

Flag has said the damage to its cable off the UAE coast was caused by a ship anchor, but no official explanation has yet been given for what caused the damage to the other three cables.

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