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ZetaTalk: Alexandria Cables
written January 31, 2008 The FLAG system, that mother of all wires, starts at Porthcurno, England, and proceeds to Estepona, Spain; through the Strait of Gibraltar to Palermo, Sicily; across the Mediterranean to Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt; overland from those two cities to Suez, Egypt; down the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea, with a potential branching unit to Jedda, Saudia Arabia; around the Arabian Peninsula to Dubai, site of the FLAG Network Operations Center; across the Indian Ocean to Bombay; around the tip of India and across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to Ban Pak Bara, Thailand, with a branch down to Penang, Malaysia; overland across Thailand to Songkhla; up through the South China Sea to Lan Tao Island in Hong Kong; up the coast of China to a branch in the East China Sea where one fork goes to Shanghai and the other to Koje-do Island in Korea, and finally to two separate landings in Japan - Ninomiya and Miura, which are owned by rival carriers. Anchors are a perennial problem that gets much worse during typhoons, because an anchor that has dropped well away from a cable may be dragged across it as the ship is pushed around by the wind. Formerly, cable was plowed into the bottom in water shallower than 1,000 meters, which kept it away from the trawlers. Because of recent changes in fishing practices, the figure has been boosted to 2,000 meters.

We have spoken since the early days of ZetaTalk about the stretch zones of the world, where plates are pulling apart. The Red Sea is one of these zones, as is the African Rift, pulling apart as Africa rolls into the Indian Ocean. The Suez Canal is thus pulled eastward, creating tension on any cables laid under the Mediterranean from France or Italy into Egypt. These cables are laid with slack, and pressed into the seabed where expected to be anywhere near where ships anchor. For a single cable to be damaged potentially by a ship anchor might fly as an excuse, but two cables, simultaneously? The point of fault can be estimated by the cable operators by a type of ping to the point of injury. Both the damaged cables reached shore at Alexandria, with the injury estimated to have occurred 5.2 miles off the coast from Alexandria.

What kind of tension were these cables under at this point? One end was secured at the point of landfall. Where the cable under the Mediterranean was free, it had drag, particularly as it approached shore as it would be buried in the seabed at this point, to avoid injury by ships' anchors. A cable under tension in this manner due to the plate separating/stretching would rise up, and be a perfect target for an anchor. The ships whose anchors tore the cables were not illegally anchored at the distance from shore where the injury occurred. Instead the cables were unexpectedly above the floor of the seabed at that point, and vulnerable to being hooked by anchors.

Will more such catastrophes occur in stretch zones? Broken communications are the least of mankind's worry there. Chasms will open up. Roads will tear and bridges will drop. Buildings will find their infrastructure shifting beneath them, and will either drop into their foundations or slip sideways into a lean. Gas and water mains will continue to shatter, with fires and explosions caused by gas leaks running rampant through neighborhoods or business districts. The stretch has only begun, and will accelerate as the plates begin to move more aggressively.

Damaged Cables Cut Internet in Mideast
January 30, 2008
It was not clear what caused the damage to the cable. There has been speculation by others that an illegally or improperly anchored ship caused the problem. This was the first time two undersea cables near each other were cut at the same time.
Internet Disrupted in Egypt and India
January 30, 2008
The cable in question goes between France and Egypt.
Internet Outages Seen Across Middle East
January 30, 2008
DU told The Associated Press that the reason for the outage was a fault on a submarine cable located between Alexandria, Egypt, and Palermo, Italy.
Severed Cables Disrupt Internet
January 31, 2008
FLAG Telecoms operate the 17,400 mile long submarine communications cable. SEA-ME-WE 4 is a submarine cable system linking South East Asia to Europe via the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. Neither of the cable operators have confirmed the cause or location of the outage but some reports suggest it was caused by a ship's anchor near the port of Alexandria in Egypt.
Mediterranean Cables Cut, Disrupting Communications
Jan. 30, 2008
Six ships were diverted from Alexandria port and one may have severed the cables with an anchor, said a spokesman for Flag Telecom Group Ltd., which operates one of the cables. The incident took place 8.3 kilometers (5.2 miles) from Alexandria beach in northern Egypt.