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.