Cable damage in Mediterranean disrupts Internet in Mideast

Wide areas of the Middle East experienced Internet disruptions today after two underwater cables were damaged.

Wide areas of the Middle East experienced Internet disruptions today after two underwater cables were damaged in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Egypt, according to reports.

Michael Coe, a spokesman for AT&T Inc., said that two cables were cut and that AT&T has been routing traffic around the damaged area. One of the cables is owned by U.K.-based Flag Telecom Group Ltd., and the other is owned by a consortium of several companies that includes AT&T called SEA-ME-WE4. The consortium is investigating the damage and arranging for repairs, he said.

Flag Telecom told The Register that ships were anchored in an unusual location off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, and a ship's anchor cut into the cable.

A Flag spokesman said the company was in the process of sending a repair ship to the site to assess the damage, but it warned that repairs could take 12 to 15 days.

Verizon Communications Inc. was also routing some customer traffic around the cable cuts, according a report. A Verizon spokeswoman said that the two cuts occurred at separate times, with the first to the SEA-ME-WE4 at 11:30 p.m. yesterday (EST) and the second at 2:30 a.m. (EST) today. She speculated that the cuts may have been caused by a ship dragging an anchor; the consortium is still investigating.

Flag said Internet users in India would likely see slower access. Even though major cables have redundant connections, major damage can reduce bandwidth.

A Computerworld editor working in Amman, Jordan, said she had Internet access and instant messaging but noted that service was slower than normal.

A user in India told the Register that connectivity to the Internet was "flaky" and similar to disruptions caused by an earthquake near Taiwan that severed undersea cables and led to Internet bottlenecks.

The Associated Press reported that emergency teams were trying to find alternate routes for Internet traffic, including using satellite connections. The Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said the damage led to a partial disruption of Internet and telecommunications services across much of Egypt.

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