What is the cause of the network outage?
Early in the morning of Sunday June 18, 2017, we experienced loss of communications on our submarine cable system from Lagos and Accra into Portugal. This outage was investigated by our team and suppliers and we isolated the fault on the cable to a location 3000km South of Portugal where the cable is at 3400 meters water depth.
We immediately called upon our submarine maintenance agreement with Atlantic Cable Maintenance and Repair Agreement (ACMA) to deploy a vessel to perform the repairs while we continued to isolate the specific location and nature of the fault. The vessel was confirmed and deployed from Brest, France 8.00am on Monday, June 19, 2017.
The fault was isolated to a location in international waters in the Atlantic Ocean, outside the territorial waters of Senegal. The vessel arrived onsite on Tuesday June 27 and commenced work in the early hours of the next day.
How long will this outage last? And why is it taking so long to repair the fault?
First the vessel had to retrieve necessary spares to ensure whatever occurred could be addressed and then it had to sail to the fault location. Next, in order to complete the repair, the affected section of the submarine cable had to be pulled from the seabed onto the ship where it will be repaired. Skilled technicians splice the glass fibers and use powerful adhesives to attach the new section of cable to each cut end of the original—a process which can take up to 24 hours. Post repair, the submarine cable is lowered back to the seabed and guided to a good position.
We initially announced that estimated time for repair of this cable would be up to 14 days, and we continue to work towards achieving this aggressive timeline.
What could have caused the outage in the sea?
Given the distance from land and the water depth of the cable at which the fault occurred, any kind of human activity – ship anchors, fishing, drilling etc had been immediately ruled out. However, submarine cables are also at risk from underwater earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis et al. Submarine cable faults occur more frequently as a result of human activity and the MainOne has operated for 7 years with no such outage. Our preliminary analysis suggests some form of landslide on the seabed resulted in a break to the cable, but we will obtain more data when the cable is retrieved during the repair exercise.
Is it likely that this cable cut was intentional?
Not feasible at that location and as indicated above, we have strong evidence on probable cause.
What does this mean to our customers?
While we do have some restoration capacity on other cable systems, we acquired more when this incident occurred, but we have not found adequate capacity available on other cable systems to fully restore services to all our customers.
MainOne has declared a Force Majeure; does this mean we will not pay service outage penalties?
A Force Majeure event describes an activity beyond our reasonable control e.g riots, earthquakes etc. Our commercial contracts typically includes such a clause which enables us to suspend our contractual obligations for the duration of the disruption. Nonetheless, we have worked to provide restoration services to our customers where feasible.
How come MainOne is quick to declare a Force Majeure without an RCA?
The Force Majeure declaration is pursuant to the provisions of our respective service agreement and also an industry best approach. We declared a force majeure event when we had enough technical data from the preliminary assessment to indicate some underwater geological activity was the likely cause. Repair work continues to confirm and provide data to substantiate that declaration. A detailed RCA will be provided at completion of repair activity.
How come MainOne did not have sufficient redundancy plan in place to mitigate service disruption?
MainOne has some restoration agreements with other operators. However, we believe our submarine cable has the highest lit capacity in West Africa for a single operator and even though we worked with many operators on restoration, there simply was not enough capacity and interconnection facilities in place to temporarily restore our entire network. However, we are already working on expanding our list of restoration and backup providers.
What is happening now?
The repair vessel arrived at the affected location on June 28, 2017 and repair activities are well underway.
How better can we protect our submarine cable so this outage does not happen again?
The MainOne cable is very well protected which is why we have not had a cable outage in seven years of operation. This is the best track record of any cable system operating in West Africa. However, there is nothing any party can do to prevent the force of nature such as this Force Majeure Event. We have taken a lead in West Africa in participating in the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC), which promotes awareness of the strategic benefits of submarine cables and pro-active activities to minimize submarine cable damage.
We are very optimistic that our cable will be repaired as planned and services fully restored so that we can continue to operate with continued integrity of the submarine cable.