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Up to Four Subsea Cables Have Been Damaged Off Yemen

Subsea hydrophone cables on the seabed
USN file image

Published Feb 26, 2024 10:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Just weeks after a warning about potential Houthi threats to subsea cables in the Red Sea, at least one fiber-optic line has been severed at a position off the coast of Yemen, and damage has been reported (but not confirmed) on three more. 

Until last year, the Red Sea carried about one-eighth of the world's shipping traffic. Less known is its importance to the functioning of the global internet. 16 small fiber-optic lines under the Red Sea handle about 17 percent of all international data traffic, including trunk lines connecting Europe with India and East Asia. Some of these lines are in relatively shallow water depths of as little as 300 feet, where they could be accessible to divers.

The Houthi movement is well aware of this opportunity. Earlier this year, a Houthi social media account posted a map of these cables, along with a note that the density of telecom infrastructure made Yemen "strategic." The internationally-recognized government of Yemen issued a warning of the potential Houthi threat to these subsea assets earlier this month, and has reportedly discussed it with telecom operators in the past. 

On Monday, Israeli news site Globes said that cables belonging to four major telecom networks - including the Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE-1), TGN Atlantic, Europe India Gateway and the Seacom system - have been damaged in recent months. 

Seacom has confirmed that its cable between Egypt and Kenya was severed on February 24, though the firm told Bloomberg that it is still too early to know if this was a deliberate attack. 

Seacom warned that repairs could be delayed due to "instability in the area," and said that its team was working on a timeline for service restoration. The challenges will include finding a cable ship owner who is willing to operate within range of Houthi ballistic missiles, as well as an insurer who will cover the war risk while the vessel is holding station off Yemen.