Disruption to submarine cables degrades internet for parts of Africa and Asia

An apparent disruption to submarine cables that help transit web traffic around the world degraded internet service for millions of people in parts of Africa and Asia for hours Tuesday.

The issue affected at least Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE-1) and SeaMeWe5, two major submarine cables that transit through Egypt, according to global network watchers, limiting internet access in some countries that rely on the cables for connectivity — including Pakistan, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Somalia, and others. 

Google Cloud also noted service issues to some areas during disruption. 

“Today a technical failure in Egypt knocked out service for multiple submarine cables degrading Internet connectivity for millions of people in South Asia, the Middle East and East Africa,” Kentik director of Internet analysis Doug Madory told The Record.  

However, the incident could have been worse: technicians repaired the issue within a matter of hours because it was on land, according to Madory.

“Submarine cable cuts usually take days if not weeks to repair causing extended downtime,” he explained, due to the complex process of making repairs underwater. Service now appears restored, Madory said. 

AAE-1 is a 25,000km consortium cable that went online in 2017 and connects in 20 landing points across Africa, Europe, and Asia. The SeaMeWe5 consortium cable, in operation since 2016, runs 20,000km and covers a similar footprint. 

The issue didn’t affect all countries connected via the cables in the same way because some had more options to reroute web traffic than others, such as through alternative submarine or terrestrial avenues, Cloudflare head of data insight David Belson told The Record.

“For example, Ethiopia saw an immediate traffic drop of 90%, whereas Pakistan saw an immediate traffic drop of only 25%,” Belson said. According to Cloudflare’s data, Ethiopia’s connectivity was degraded the most, followed by Somalia which saw an 85% drop. 

Submarine cables are a major part of the internet’s infrastructure, but face a variety of threats — from natural disasters to fishing boats and literal shark attacks — that can cause outages. 

A cut to a cable in Indonesia in March that took more than a week to repair, Data Center Dynamics reported. When the sole submarine cable connecting Tonga was severed in a volcanic eruption in January, repairs took more than a month

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson

(they/them) is a longtime cybersecurity journalist who cut their teeth covering technology policy at ThinkProgress (RIP) and The Washington Post before doing deep-dive public records investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight.