Undersea cable repairs delayed by nuclear crisis

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am


International submarine cable operators face continued delays in repairing infrastructure damaged by last month's earthquake and tsunami, as the nuclear threat unfolds in Japan.

Telecommunications network carriers - which had scrambled to reroute traffic to stable systems soon after the twin natural disasters hit northern Japan on March 11 - are now largely relying on three of the eight transpacific cable connections, according to Andrew Kwok Wing-pong, the senior vice-president of international business at Hutchison Global Communications (HGC), part of Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong Holdings.

'The effect of the Japan earthquake [on the operation of submarine cable networks] has been more complicated, but not as severe as that of the Taiwan earthquake [on December 26, 2006],' said Kwok, who noted that HGC helped reroute connections for large companies and telecommunications carriers last month.

The only slated undersea cable repair work to date is on April 10 for the Japan-US cable network, which is linked to southern Japan. The system is owned by a consortium that includes KDDI Corp, NTT Communications, Hong Kong-based Reach Global Services, AT&T Corp, Cable & Wireless, Verizon Business and Softbank Telecom Corp. It is not known whether that repair work will proceed as scheduled because of Japan's nuclear crisis, considered the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.

'The big problem after the earthquake is the radiation leak from the Fukushima nuclear plant,' Bill Barney, the chief executive of submarine cable operator Pacnet, said.

A crack in one of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, about 220 kilometres north of Tokyo, has been leaking radiation into the sea and air. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, has struggled to plug the leak.

Concerns over the harmful radiation that could be released in the case of a meltdown at the plant have made shipowners, including those operating cable-repair vessels, wary of their ships being exposed near that area, according to Barney.

Hong Kong-based Pacnet, which operates Asia's largest privately owned submarine cable network, has delayed repairs on two damaged segments of its EAC-C2C cable system.

Cable network operator Pacific Crossing, a unit of NTT Communications, said on its website that repair activities on faults at the north and west sections of its PC-1 system have been delayed because the cablerepair company could not dispatch a ship to the area.

Pacific Crossing said it was 'investigating several alternative arrangements in order to complete the cable repairs'. It hoped to have the PC-1 North repair completed later this month or early May, so repair on PC-1 West could follow soon after.

The other damaged transpacific submarine cable network is the Asia-Pacific Cable Network 2 system, owned by Reach, PCCW and Telstra.