In an exceptionally rare occurrence, four underwater data cables in the Red Sea have been damaged, leading to a significant disruption in global internet connectivity. These cables play a crucial role in transmitting data between Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, making their impairment a matter of utmost concern.

The Incident

  • Four Undersea Cables Cut: An unknown party deliberately severed four out of the fifteen major undersea cables that traverse the Red Sea. These cables serve as vital communication lifelines, facilitating internet traffic across vast distances.

Impact on Internet Traffic

  • 25% of Internet Traffic Affected: As a result of these cable cuts, approximately 25% of internet traffic in the affected regions faces rerouting. Internet service providers are grappling with the challenge of redirecting data flows through alternative submarine cables.

The Vulnerability of Underwater Cables

  • Critical Infrastructure: Underwater cables are both critical and vulnerable infrastructure. They have attracted substantial investments from tech giants such as Meta, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft in the past.
  • Comprehensive Diversity Plan: Hong Kong telecom company HGC Global Communications has swiftly devised a comprehensive diversity plan to reroute the impacted traffic. This involves rerouting data through other existing submarine cables.
  • Suspected Culprits: While the identity of the perpetrators remains unconfirmed, recent warnings from the Yemeni government pointed to the possibility that Houthi rebels might target these cables. The Houthis had previously threatened such attacks on social media platforms.

Denials and Speculations

  • Houthi Denial: Rebel leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi categorically denied any intention of targeting sea cables providing internet services to countries in the region. He emphasized that their focus lies elsewhere.
  • Sabotage or Accidental Damage?: Experts speculate that the problem likely lies in shallow waters (approximately 492 to 558 feet deep), where Iran-backed Houthi fighters have been using drones and missiles to strike ships. However, definitive conclusions can only be drawn once the damaged cables are physically inspected.

Recovery Challenges

  • Weeks or Months for Repairs: Repairing the severed cables could take weeks or even months, contingent upon permits from the Yemeni maritime authority.
  • Risk of Further Attacks: The repair work also exposes the cables to potential further attacks by Houthi groups.
  • Costly Endeavor: Finding skilled technicians willing to undertake this challenging task may prove difficult, and the associated costs are likely to be substantial.

Affected Companies

  • Seacom: One of the affected companies, Seacom, operates one of the cut cables.
  • Other impacted companies include TGN, AAE-1, and EIG.
  • Major providers like AT&T and Verizon have shares in EIG, whose cable installation cost a staggering $700 million.

In summary, the damage to these vital undersea cables underscores the fragility of our interconnected digital world. As the global community grapples with this disruption, efforts to restore seamless internet connectivity remain a top priority.

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