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Fourth Subsea Cable Down in Middle East

Four submarine cables disrupted in less than a week -- what are the odds?

Following damage to the SEA-ME-WE4 consortium cable and two FLAG Telecom Ltd. routes in the Middle East last week, a fourth outage has been reported -- this time on the route linking the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Qatar Telecom QSC (Qtel) told local media Sunday that the connection between the Qatari island of Haloul and the U.A.E. island of Das was disrupted on Friday and that it had lost close to 40 percent of its capacity, which had also been affected by the first outages. Unconfirmed reports say the cable was taken offline due to power system issues.

U.A.E.-based operators Etisalat and Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co. (du) told reporters they weren't affected by the break.

FLAG Telecom's FLAG Europe-Asia cable and SEA-ME-WE4 in the Mediterranean Sea were cut on Wednesday. Then on Friday the section of FLAG's Falcon cable in the Persian Gulf between Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Oman was damaged. (See Subsea Cable Outage Hits Mideast, India and Third Cable Outage Hits Middle East.)

The disruption of four submarine cables since Wednesday morning has touched off some entertaining conspiracy theories -- particularly after a statement was released by Egypt's communications ministry Sunday saying that the disruption to the first two cables was not likely to have been caused by a ship's anchor as it was widely reported.

"A marine transport committee investigated the traffic of ships in the area, 12 hours before and after the malfunction, where the cables are located to figure out the possibility of being cut by a passing vessel and found out there were no passing ships at that time," the statement reads.

"The committee further added the site is a restricted area, which excludes the possibility that the malfunction resulted from a crossing ship."

Communications services will remain affected throughout the Middle East and South East Asia until repairs are completed during the next two weeks.

The Egyptian ministry said in its statement that "Internet efficiency in Egypt has reached about 70 percent after adding extra capacities by 5 Gbit/s from France Telecom at the request of Telecom Egypt and Egyptian internet service providers (ISPs), to reach 80 percent by Monday."

FLAG Telecom's repair ship is scheduled to arrive at the Europe-Asia cable Tuesday, while the ship headed for Falcon was awaiting clearance to leave its port, according to an update posted on its Website Monday morning. The ship was delayed in Abu Dhabi over the weekend due to bad weather.

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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