Dual Submarine Cable Restoration Process Underway as Gale Force Winds Subside

A simultaneous dual cable break that occurred in the early hours of last Thursday, 16 January 2020, has resulted in South African internet users, whose ISPs are connected to international connectivity on both or either of these cable systems, experiencing reduced speed on international browsing. There is also impact on international voice calling and mobile roaming.

The affected cables, the South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable (SAT3/WASC) and the West African Cable System (WACS), are deployed in the Atlantic Ocean and connect South Africa and many other African countries to Europe.  The WACS system lands in South Africa at Yzerfontein, Western Cape while the SAT3/WASC system enters South Africa at Melkbosstrand, Western Cape.

Telkom, through its infrastructure provisioning division Openserve, and many other South African and internationally based licensed operators hold equity in these cables.  The capacity that wholesale operators hold is sold on to ISPs and other industry players that require international connectivity. The undersea cable systems are consortium run and the Maintenance and Operations Sub-Committees of these consortiums are responsible for the repairs that are required for restoration of full service.

Openserve has been advised that both cable consortia have tasked their respective restoration processes to a single Chief of Mission aboard the Leon Thevinin. The Leon Thevinin is a fit-for-purpose undersea cable deployment and maintenance vessel that is staffed with highly skilled technical personnel suitable for the most efficient restoration of both cable systems.

Strong and gale force winds in the City of Cape Town last week and over the weekend has delayed the operations of the cable ship. The Harbour Master has however granted the requisite authority yesterday for the cable ship to mobilise once the weather became stable enough.

The vessel was moved from the jetty where it was stationed yesterday afternoon to the docking area where loading of supplies for the repair mission had commenced at approximately 17:45. We have had confirmation this morning, from the Chief of Mission aboard the vessel, that this process is running optimally at the moment with submarine-rated optic fibre cable, repeaters, all test gear and jointing kits being loaded.

Once the loading is concluded the vessel will depart to the break location to undertake the repair.  The Chief of Mission anticipates that all loading will be complete by the evening of Wednesday, 22 January, should all go according to plan. A travel plan with detailed departure and arrival times will only be provided once loading is completed.  Actual restoration timelines can only be provided once the ship arrives at the break site and the crew has had time to assess the extent of the damage. The expectation is that the SAT3/WASC cable will be worked on first as it was the first of the consortiums to hand over the repair operation to the ships Chief of Mission and crew.

Openserve will maintain constant interface with the consortiums and their OEM partners until both cable systems are up and running again. We have made our resources available to both consortiums to assist wherever possible.

Since notice of the dual cable break on Thursday, 16 January 2020, Openserve’s Global Capacity team had been exploring options available from other undersea cable consortiums in order to ascertain the availability of spare capacity that could be purchased.

Commercial deals with several parties have been concluded and Openserve is now in the process of activating additional international connectivity capacity. This is in addition to the activation of spare capacity on Openserve’s own equity on the Indian Ocean based undersea cables. These measures will certainly minimise some of the impact on its network, and that of its clients, while repairs to the WACS and SAT3/WASC cable systems continue.