Massive Internet outage — First cable repair ship arrives at quadruple cable break

Orange Marine cable layer Léon Thévenin has arrived at the site of one of four major undersea fibre cable breaks. A second ship, Global Marine’s C.S. Sovereign, remains en route.

This comes after a suspected submarine landslide that knocked out four undersea cables on 14 March, causing severe Internet disruptions in South Africa and all along Africa’s Western coast.

The incident happened near Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, breaking the West Africa Cable System (WACS), Africa Coast to Europe (ACE), MainOne, and SAT-3.

Due to the location and depth of the breaks, the cable owners have ruled out sabotage, stray boat anchors, and other human activity as possible causes for the outages. This leaves a submarine landslide as the most likely explanation.

The cable breaks caused a roughly two-hour outage on Vodacom’s data network in South Africa.

It also took down Microsoft’s locally hosted cloud services, preventing people from accessing their email, Teams meetings, and other Microsoft 365 services.

The Microsoft Azure region in South Africa was also offline for several hours, leaving companies like payments provider Yoco unable to function.

Services were restored after the impacted companies secured additional capacity on undersea cables that were still operational, like Google’s Equiano.

Vodacom and Microsoft have not yet explained why a lack of international bandwidth also disrupted their local connectivity.

Network infrastructure company WIOCC, an investor in WACS, has provided an update on the repairs to the four broken submarine cables.

A WIOCC spokesperson told MyBroadband that the Léon Thévenin set sail on 19 March from Cape Town.

However, it will only attend to the SAT-3 break and was expected to reach the fault area on 29 March.

WACS is the more important cable for most South African network service providers, as the Telkom-controlled SAT-3 offers much less capacity.

Regardless, it is expected that repairs to SAT-3 will be completed by the second week of April, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

WIOCC explained that the C.S. Sovereign will work on MainOne, WACS, and ACE. It is expected to arrive by 8 April.

According to various ship tracking websites, the Sovereign left London on 21 March, briefly stopping in France and Spain before setting sail to the first fault site.

It stopped in Brest, France on 22 March and left again on 24 March. It paused again at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain on 30 March before leaving on 1 April.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the expected restoration dates for the remaining cables are as follows:

  • ACE by 17 April 2024
  • WACS by 28 April 2024
  • MainOne by 9 May 2024

While a submarine landslide is the suspected cause of the breaks, WIOCC said that no formal diagnosis of the cause has been possible.

Photograph of the C.S. Sovereign by Ein Dahmer / Wikimedia Commons.

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Massive Internet outage — First cable repair ship arrives at quadruple cable break