Vietnam’s submarine cable ‘lost’ and ‘found’

Posted on June 2, 2007  /  4 Comments

Dhaka, June 1 (—Maritime thieves have stolen at least 11-kilometres Vietnamese portion of Thailand bound SEA-ME-WE3 submarine cable and sold the 100 tons of illicit cargo as scrap, reported VietNamNet Bridge online newspaper Tuesday.

Such bizarre underwater international telecoms infrastructure robbery occurred on March 25 and since then Vietnam’s Internet users have been struggling with far slower speed.

The broken cable system, named TVH, was built in 1993-1995, connecting Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong with a capacity of 560 megabits per second.

The Vietnam Telecom International (VTI) got puzzled when the cable went down. It occurred soon after the Asia Pacific region recovered from prolonged bandwidth crisis as earthquake snapped bunch of submarine cables in the Taiwanese coast

VTI called a submarine cable fixing ship from Singapore. But its crew went bonkers after detecting 11-kilometres of the cable was missing from the floor of Ca Mau Sea. The maintenance vessel went back as it never carries that many cables in the first place.

Baffled VTI already lost four million dollars revenue and it will incur further 2.6 millions dollars to fix the underwater missing link. Vietnam’s Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Public Security, the Naval Command and military commands joined hands to catch the fishy fishermen.

Authorities have not discovered who initially cut the cable. But last Wednesday, police in the southern coastal town of Vung Tau said they captured a boat carrying 60 tons of undersea optical fibre cable, reported quoting German news agency dpa.

Earlier the police also captured three boats and recovered 40 tons of similar cables. Same man, a Vung Tau resident, allegedly owns all the four boats.

But VTI’s deputy director Lan Quoc Cuong said the cable seized by police in Vung Tau does not match the cable his company owns, and they must have come from a different severed line.

He said finding the cable would have been difficult for the thieves. “The cable is located in different locations and at different depths,” he said. “Maybe, while using an anchor, they found the cable by accident and started cutting it.”

Meanwhile the Vietnamese media has made a disturbing revelation. The country’s defence ministry contracted few companies last August to salvage the decommissioned undersea copper cables. The US-backed former South Vietnamese government deployed them before the country became independent in 1975.

Reports said some of these companies apparently went for legitimate undersea treasures hunt but they may have struck the operational undersea fibre optic cables instead.

Whatever the case may be, robbing the submarine cable is getting rampant in Vietnam, said VietNamNet Bridge. So far this year, five undersea optical cable theft cases have been detected.

The latest case was on May 3 when border guards of the southern province of Kien Giang detected two fishing boats carrying 80 tonnes of cable. A boat owner said that while catching fish offshore, his boat caught the cable and they cut the cable and brought it to the mainland to sell.

Earlier on April 15, three fishing boats loaded with 80 tonnes of cable were caught in the southern province of Soc Trang. Fishermen on those boats said that they found the cable offshore and stopped catching fish to cut the cable to sell as waste.

Authorities of Kien Giang, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang provinces have seized hundreds of tonnes of telecom cable from fishing boats. Police say they have broken up five rings selling some 500 tons of illegally salvaged cable since the beginning of this year, said.