Sabotage suspected in Egypt submarine cable cut

The submarine internet cable, SEA-ME-WE 4, links at least 14 countries from France to Singapore

Egypt said it has arrested three men suspected of slicing a crucial undersea Internet cable on Wednesday, causing widespread problems from Kenya to Pakistan.

The South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) cable runs 12,500 miles from France to Singapore, with branches connecting telecommunication companies in Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Tunisia and Algeria.

Egypt published photos of three men in a boat with their hands tied along with scuba diving tanks. The men were apprehended just offshore where SEA-ME-WE 4 reaches land, according to a Facebook posting purportedly by Egypt's military.

Egypt's Facebook account could not be immediately verified with the social networking company, but Telecom Egypt also wrote about the arrests on its Twitter feed.

SEA-ME-WE 4 is a major cable, said Doug Madory, senior research engineer for Renesys, a company that monitors global internet activity by collecting data on how traffic is routed to different service providers around the world. The cable stopped carrying traffic at 6:20 UTC on Wednesday, he said.

Undersea cables can break due to earthquakes or ship anchors, Madory said. There are fewer than 10 ships worldwide that are equipped to repair underseas cables, he said. But Egypt's might be easier for fix since it is closer to shore, he said.

If the allegation of sabotage is true, "that is just staggering," Madory said. Renesys posted a graph on Twitter showing the outage affecting countries, including Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Saudi Arabia.

At least 614 networks that connect to Telecom Egypt were not working, Madory said. Hundred of smaller networks that connect to Pakistan's Transworld Associates network were also down, he said.

Renesys monitors routing information for 400 telecommunication companies worldwide. When a cable does down, Internet routers run by telecoms are designed to reroute traffic. But smaller networks that are dependant on a sole large provider to the cable could remain offline until it is fixed, Madory said.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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Jeremy Kirk

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