Repair ship to work on damaged Internet cables

The repair work will likely be completed in a week of the ship's arrival, UK-based FLAG Telecom said.

A repair ship is expected to arrive this week to the site of severed cables off the northern coast of Egypt to begin repair work on the damage that has disrupted Internet services across the Middle East and India, a leading provider of international network services said over the weekend. The UK-based FLAG Telecom said in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press that the ship was expected Tuesday on the location in the Mediterranean Sea. The repair work will likely be completed in a week of the ship's arrival, it said. In a separate statement, FLAG Telecom reported that a different undersea Internet cable, FALCON, also belonging to the company, had been cut Friday at a location 56 kilometers from Dubai, on a stretch between the United Arab Emirates and Oman in the Persian Gulf. There were no other details on this damage - the first to be reported in the Persian Gulf. But FLAG Telecom said that a "repair ship has been notified and expected to arrive at the site in the next few days," apparently referring to the Persian Gulf location. Earlier, the company said its FLAG Europe-Asia cable in the Mediterranean was cut Wednesday morning, 8.3 kilometers from the Egyptian port of Alexandria, on a stretch linking Egypt to Italy. The company also said it was able to restore circuits to some customers and was switching to alternative routes for others. It did not provide any details as to why it would take until Tuesday for the repair ship to arrive at a site so near the port of Alexandria. The harbor has been closed for most of this week because of bad weather. Wednesday's damage to two undersea Internet cables off Egypt's coast disrupted Web access across a wide swath of Asia and the Middle East. Egypt's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamil said Friday that the Internet service in the country would be up and running to about 80 percent of its usual capacity within 48 hours, revising an earlier statement that this level would be restored by late Friday. "However, it's not before 10 days until the Internet service returns to its normal performance," Kamil told the Friday edition of the state Al-Ahram newspaper. There are 8 million Internet users in Egypt, according to a ministry count. On Thursday, Kamil described the damage as an "earthquake" and said the reason behind the cut would only be determined after the repair teams with their robot equipment reach the damaged cables. The official Middle East News Agency quoted the minister as saying technicians managed to raise the level of the Internet service Thursday to about 45 percent and that Telecom Egypt would soon get a bandwidth of 10 gigabytes to be increased to 13 gigabytes - close to the country's total capacity of 16 gigabytes. But Internet access remained sporadic or nonexistent Friday, the first day of the official Muslim weekend in the Middle East when all government offices and most businesses are closed. Kamil, who said international telephone services have not been affected by the incident, also praised the cooperation among the country's companies with the ministry to share the service and the cooperation of international companies in France, Italy and southeast Asia. The paper also said that on Thursday, the state Telecom Egypt communication company "sealed a deal" for a new 3,100 kilometer-long undersea cable between Egypt and France, also through the Mediterranean. That cable would take over 18 months to complete, the report said. It did not say who Telecom's partners in the deal were.