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Sabotage As Submarine Cable Cuts Disrupt Economy

Acts of sabotage of the West African Cable System (WACS), the submarine cable systems on the high seas in Europe which serves the Nigerian market and some West African countries, has led to disruptions in the Nigerian economy payment and communication system with Customers complaining about not being able to surf the web, use internet reliant apps, make international calls and access mobile money services, among others.

Submarine Cable

A large number of Internet subscribers experienced hitches while downloading and uploading content online at the. With the challenge, banks, financial institutions, and some Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs), which rely on the Internet to serve segments of the market, experienced difficulties in doing business.

The WACS is an ultra-high capacity fibre optic submarine cable, linking Europe, West Africa and South Africa. It connects 14 countries and over two continents. This undersea cable carries telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean and sea and transfers about 99 per cent of international data on the continent.

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) is in the Atlantic Ocean and connects many other African countries to Europe, according to Openserve, a unit of Telkom SA SOC Ltd.

Other countries across the coast of West, Central and southern Africa also suffered slow internet connectivity issues

Submarine cable cuts occur with regularity and the cable repair industry has considerable experience dealing with these incidents.  Some of these failures are due to a deliberate acts of sabotage and accidents occurring in relatively shallow water.  The good thing is that here is enormous capacity and resiliency among the cables crossing the Atlantic .

The challenge of fiber cuts (deliberate/sabotage and accidental) is making a mess of the effort and investments of telcos and the lives and businesses of Nigerians. The menace is becoming overwhelming. So much money is being sunk into security, but still the fiber cuts continue unabated and the networks keep going down. The industry is currently sitting on over 600 fiber cuts. That is very bad for business. It’s ok to compare Nigeria and the UK and the US, but these cuts don’t happen like these in those jurisdictions.

MTN is the largest operator in Nigeria with 38 percent market share and about 67 million customers. The South African telecommunications firm has connected about 53 million people in the country to the Internet. Confirming the situation, the firm had in a text message apologised to its customers, saying: “Y’ello. We apologise for slow data speeds and difficulty with accessing the Internet. Please, bear with us as we work to resolve the issue. Thank you.”

Explaining the challenge, Openserve, South Africa’s largest telecommunications infrastructure provider, said the South Atlantic 3/West Africa (SAT-3/WACS) submarine cable, which links South Africa to Europe was damaged near Libreville in Gabon. The WACS, which links South Africa to the United Kingdom, also experienced outage along the coast of Luanda, Angola.

This is, however, not the first time damage to undersea cables has disrupted Internet services on the continent. In 2018, after the African Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable was severed, more than 10 African countries were affected, with Mauritania going offline for 48 hours.In the current disruption, consumers across some countries including Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ivory Coast are having issues sending emails, surfing the Internet, making international calls and browsing.

It was learnt that the telco is already seeking alternative connection routes before the damage is fixed. Openserve disclosed that it has made its resources available to both the WACS and SAT3/WACS undersea cable consortiums, to assist with the repairs. If the issues are not resolved, however, affected telcos across Africa might begin to accumulate significant loss in revenue and subscribers.

The thing that might not be widely appreciated is the fact that telecommunications lines are also sabotaged with some regularity. Some divers were arrested by the Egyptian Navy in March 2013 for detonating underwater explosives off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, ostensibly in an attempt to scavenge for scrap metal. The incident damaged SeaMeWe-4, causing major disruptions to Internet service across the Middle East and South Asia.  But sadly there are numerous other examples of telecom sabotage, motivated by various reasons.  In the African country of Gabon, saboteurs cut service from that country’s submarine cable in both March and April, apparently over a labour dispute between Gabon Telecom’s workers and their new owners. In eastern Libya, the landing station for the Silphium submarine cable was blown up in 2013. Yemen has seen numerous acts of sabotage in recent years, while Colombia suffered a major telecom sabotage incident back in January.  In addition, Bangladesh, Kenya and Nigeria have also had their own incidents of telecom sabotage.

Meanwhile, Google has said that it has no plans to lay Fibre cables in Nigeria. According to its country manager, Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor  multiple taxes is a major reason. The company wants the government to simplify taxes and reduce fees involved in laying fibre optic cables. She said multiple taxes at the federal and state level raised the cost of expanding the required infrastructure. She wants Government to remove  some of those obstacles – for example, bringing down right of way fees and removing this challenge around multiple taxation.

Google has laid fibre optic cables in Uganda’s capital Kampala and in Abidjan in Ivory Coast but has no similar plans in Nigeria.

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