HGC Global Communications, DE-CIX & Intelsat perspectives on damaged Red Sea internet cables

Earlier this week, four underwater data cables were damaged in the Red Sea. Hong Kong telecom HGC Global Communications said about 25% of internet traffic in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East had to be rerouted. 

There are more than 15 undersea internet cables in the Red Sea. To have four damaged at a single time is ”exceptionally rare,” HGC said in a separate earlier statement.

The disruption of the cables did not disconnect any country from the internet, but the Wall Street Journal reports service in India, Pakistan, and parts of East Africa was noticeably degraded.

No services have yet offered a reason for the cuts. Yemen’s telecom ministry denied speculation it was responsible for the failures, saying it was “keen to keep all telecom submarine cables…away from any possible risks.”

Underwater cables are responsible for most of the internet’s data traffic. They’re cheaper than land-based cables, but are prone to damage from ships’ anchors.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East has experts wondering about the timing and severity of this outage, though. Iran-based Houthi has been particularly aggressive in the Red Sea, including in mid-February when a cargo ship was abandoned by its crew following an Houthi attack. The ship, which had weighed anchor, drifted for weeks before sinking.

According to U.S. officials, the anchor of the Rubymar, a UK-owned ship, likely severed three cables in the Red Sea on February 18, 2024. The Rubymar was struck by a Houthi missile on February 18, 2024, and sank after taking on water. As it was sinking, its anchor likely cut the cables that provide global telecommunications and internet data.

Houthi control of the region and the ongoing strife in Yemen makes repairing the damaged cables more complicated. One of the four companies affected said it expects to start that process early in the second quarter, though permit issues, weather, and the civil war in that country could impact that.

Four internet cables have been cut in the Red Sea

Statement by Dr. Thomas King, Chief Technology Officer, DE-CIX:

“As a global Internet Exchange (IX) operator, DE-CIX rents capacity on submarine cables in the Red Sea as part of its global network, which interconnects more than 50 IXs and Cloud Exchanges around the world. One of our data pathways from Asia to Europe makes use of the Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE1) cable, one of three that were damaged in a recent incident. According to the information we have, the cause of the damage was the anchor of a freighter that the Houthi rebels had attacked. At some point, the crew abandoned the ship and dropped anchor so that the unmanned ship would not drift out of control. Unfortunately, the anchor did not hold, and the drifting wreck dragged the anchor across the seabed, rupturing the three affected lines before the ship finally sank.”

“From a telecommunications perspective, the Red Sea is a neuralgic point connecting Europe and Asia. DE-CIX has leased capacity on two separate submarine cables in the Red Sea, located several kilometers apart. We operate them in active-active mode, which means that the second cable is fully available if one should fail. The data is rerouted fully automatically, without manual intervention. As we monitor all of our systems automatically 24/7, we were alerted immediately to the failure of the connection. At the same time, the carrier that we rent our capacity from also informed us of the incident.”

“Given that we always work with redundant connections, the impact of the incident is not critical for DE-CIX customers. We share our capacities across multiple submarine cable routes worldwide and check the exact routes, including GPS coordinates, to ensure that these routes do not overlap at any point. We plan in such a way that we can fully compensate for the failure of at least one submarine cable, and we can always use different data pathways. We generally expect damage to submarine cables to take two to three months to repair because special ships are needed for this. In the meantime, we are also working to establish alternative redundancy channels.”

“In terms of the impact on Internet users in Europe and Asia, if Internet service providers and carriers have built their networks redundantly and therefore resiliently, Internet users should not experience any disruption. If Internet service providers choose a different risk scenario for cost reasons, for example, then even the failure of a single cable can lead to disruption for users/customers. Such a disruption is noticeable in the latency, i.e. the time it takes for the data to reach its destination. This could, for example, lead to the participants in a video conference interrupting each other because it takes too long for the spoken word to reach the other person.”


Rhys Morgan, general manager and VP, media and networks, EMEA at Intelsat is seeing demand for satellite capacity as well.

“We’ve had reports from customers that they’re seeing a slowdown in some of their Internet connectivity,” he tells Capacity Media.

Morgan notes that disruption to data traffic passing through the Red Sea has been a concern for sometime due to the Houthi militants potential to target the infrastructure.

“It’s something we’ve been keeping an eye on more broadly over a long period of time,” he says. “We’ve been working with large customers to make sure that they’ve got a hybrid approach to networking.”

Morgan is keen to emphasise that a hybrid approach to networking is crucial in times of disruption, as seen this week.

Intelsat have implemented short-term services for customers that have suffered disruption in light of the cuts.

“As part of a hybrid network approach, customers will look for mission critical or highly sensitive communications to be passed through different means,” he explains. “Fibre may be their primary method, but satellite connectivity could be on standby as a backup”.

Satellite connectivity in its current form is not well enough equipped to completely replace the vast quantities of data that travel through subsea cables every day. But for certain types of data, the technology can offer a suitable alternative.








One thought on “HGC Global Communications, DE-CIX & Intelsat perspectives on damaged Red Sea internet cables

  1. Red Sea cable breaks highlight global vulnerabilities
    Cuts to four Red Sea cables have hit Asia-Europe connectivity and have also underscored the vulnerabilities of global cable networks. Hong Kong telco HGC Global advised Monday that the Seacom, TGN, Asia Africa Europe-1 (AAE-1) and Europe-India Gateway (EIG) cables were all out of action.

    The exact cause is not clear, but most likely it is a result of anchor drag from a vessel sunk by Houthi rebels who, for the record, deny attacking cables directly.

    While not overly serious – HGC says it’s been able to reroute traffic – the incident highlights the fragility not just of the cables themselves but of the legal and operational infrastructure that is meant to support them.
    According to the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC), around 150 cable faults occur each year in the world’s 400-plus cable systems, so while they’re not rare, they certainly aren’t routine.

    Not fit for purpose

    To take the 100% Tata Communications-owned TGN cable as an example: Tata may well have seamlessly migrated all of the traffic to another cable, but why not reassure your customers and the wider public?

    As it is, they look like they are being needlessly secretive, and customers may be wondering what else is Tata not disclosing. This applies to other affected telcos too, among them AT&T, Bharti Airtel, STC and Telecom Egypt. Tata did not respond to a query from Light Reading.

    In the current environment, we need more disclosure, not less. The second factor is that this highlights the lack of an international legal framework to protect cables.

    The newest of the three international treaties that govern the seabed, UNCLOS “is not fit for purpose to uphold national security,” a recent paper from conservative UK think tank Policy Exchange argues.

    It says the treaty has not kept pace with the growing ability of state and non-state actors to threaten submarine cables.

    Specifically, it goes on to say, UNCLOS “does not prohibit states from targeting undersea cables via physical or cyber means as legitimate military targets in times of war; it does not permit warships policing territorial waters to board vessels engaging in suspicious behavior around national infrastructure; and it entirely overlooks cables at the point they make landfall at landing sites.”

    Geopolitical tensions

    UNCLOS is being redrafted, but, as a UN agreement this is going to take a long time.

    Meanwhile, we see geopolitical tensions rising, most obviously in the rivalry between US and China in the Pacific, but also in northern Europe between Russia and Europe. So it is no surprise to see the apparent deployment of “gray zone tactics” – quasi-military strategies that stop short of actual warfare.

    Taiwan has accused China of being behind the cuts to cables connecting Taiwan offshore islands last year. There is no direct evidence of this, although Taiwan has had 27 cable breaks in the past five years – an unusually high number.

    Against this backdrop there are a number of steps the industry can take.

    The most important take place before a new cable hits the water – the design, route planning and in-built redundancy that will allow cable operators and their customers to work around disruptions.

    Cable owners can also work with governments in some key areas such as security at cable landing stations, the most vulnerable part of cable systems.

    While governments today seem very much aware of the importance of their digital infrastructure, there are a number of ways in which they can step up.

    For example, in the absence of effective international law, they can enact cable protection zones that allow them to enforce security on near-shore cables, as seen in Australia and New Zealand.

    Governments should also fund the sensor networks and underwater drones that can significantly improve monitoring and awareness of real-time cable threats.

    Finally, the cable industry needs to speak with a united voice to educate and persuade governments about subsea network protection.


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