Undersea cable break worse than initially reported

  • The West Africa Cable System (WACS) and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) undersea cables were reportedly damaged in August, leading to continent-wide internet disruptions.
  • New reports show that WACS and SAT-3 were joined by breakages in the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable system and in a fourth Angolan undersea cable.
  • Repair vessel Léon Thévenin is currently in the area to repair the ACE system, after which the SAT-3 cable will be next up for repairs after WACS was fixed earlier in the month.

In August, reports indicated that two massive undersea cables – the West Africa Cable System (WACS) and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) – spanning the length of the west coast of Africa, were damaged in an underwater rock fall. New information indicates that the breakage is farther reaching than initially believed.

These systems use fibre optics to transmit information rapidly from servers in Europe and beyond and are essential for the functioning of the internet.

The breakages of the cables caused connectivity issues across Africa, with users in South Africa complaining about internet access problems since the damage with the likes of Openserve, MTN, Vodacom and Cloudflare disrupted by the issue.

According to News24 on Monday, which received information from Vodacom and MTN infrastructure unit Bayobab, it was in fact four cables that were damaged in the area and not just two.

Liquid Dataport shows the breakages of the WACS and SAT-3 cable systems off the coast of Congo.

Together with the WACS and SAT-3 cables, the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) subsea cable also suffered damages due to “gravity driven slope displacements” according to a Vodacom spokesperson. Of less significance, a fourth Angolan domestic cable was also damaged around the same time.

The repair vessel Léon Thévenin has been travelling towards the breakage area on a mission to begin repairs on the systems. The ship is now off the west coast of Africa and heading towards the ACE repair grounds, according to Bayobab.

“The consortium has been advised that the repair vessel Léon Thévenin is currently stationed at the ACE repair cable grounds, and southern break repair work is actively under way. Their dedicated teams are working diligently to ensure the swift and efficient restoration of the ACE cable system,” the firm said.

“We understand the critical importance of these undersea cable systems for international data transmission and connectivity across multiple regions,” added Bayobab, one of 20 companies that invested in the ACE cable. Neither firm indicated why they had only released this information now.

According to a Vodacom spokesperson, the SAT-3 cable will be up next for the Léon Thévenin after the ACE system is fixed.

“Weather permitting,” they said, Vodacom expects SAT-3 to be repaired during the last week of September 2023. In terms of the WACS, Bayobab has said that internet traffic that flows through it has been “rerouted” and “fully restored.” The repair vessel managed to fix the WACS cable earlier this month.


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