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Sun 3 Feb 2008 11:07 AM

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Bad weather holds up internet repairs

Repair ship stuck at port in Abu Dhabi unable to mend broken underwater cable off UAE coast.

Bad weather has prevented a repair ship from setting off to mend one of three broken undersea cables providing internet services to parts of the Middle East and Asia, an Indian-owned cable operator said.

Flag Telecom, a wholly-owned subsidiary of India's number two mobile operator Reliance Communications, said on its website a ship loaded with spares was waiting in Abu Dhabi port to sail to a break in its Falcon cable, which was cut off the coast of Dubai on Friday.

"However due to bad weather, the port authorities have not permitted any ships to sail. As soon as weather clears, the ship will sail to the repair ground," Flag said in its latest update, which it said was for 0600 GMT on February 2.

A spokesman for Reliance Communications was unable to give a more recent update.

Undersea cable connections were initially disrupted off Egypt's northern coast on Wednesday, affecting internet access in the Gulf region and south Asia, and forcing service providers to re-route traffic.

The initial breaches were in segments of two intercontinental cables known as SEA-ME-WE-4 and Flag Europe-Asia.

Flag said a repair ship loaded with spares had set sail from Catania in Italy and was expected to reach the Flag Europe-Asia cable repair ground by February 5. It said Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) had provided it with some capacity to restore services.

The third cable, Falcon, was reported cut at 0559 GMT on Friday, 56 kilometres from Dubai on a segment between the UAE and Oman.

FLAG said that with the help of Integrated Telecom Company, it had arranged part of the restoration capacity for Falcon over land between its landing stations in Al Khobar and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Some of the circuits of Qatar Telecom (Qtel) that were severely affected by the Falcon break had also been restored, it added.

Reliance Communication's main competitor Videsh Sanchar Nigam had said on Friday it had restored a majority of its internet connectivity into the Middle East and South Asia within 24 hours of the breakdown, using other SE-ME-WE-4 cables, off Egypt.

The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding submarine cables, says more than 95% of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by submarine cables, and the rest by satellite.

One of the biggest disruptions of modern telecoms systems was in December 2006, when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake broke nine submarine cables between Taiwan and the Philippines, cutting connections between southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

Internet links were thrown out in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines, disrupting the activities of banks, airlines and all kinds of email users.

Traffic was rerouted through other cables, but it took 49 days to restore full capacity. (Reuters)

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