Damage to Cables Under Red Sea Highlights Mideast Conflict’s Broader Threat

Mysterious damage to vital communications cables under the Red Sea has raised concerns about whether the conflict in the Middle East is now beginning to threaten the global internet.

Just as the waters off Yemen hold crucial shipping lanes, they are also a critical location for undersea cables that carry email and other digital traffic between Asia and the West. Around a dozen cables run through the area, and more are planned.

These bundles of glass fibers, about as thick as a garden hose, “are extremely important,” said Tim Stronge, vice president for research at TeleGeography, which analyzes the telecommunications market. “Over 90 percent of all communications trafficbetween Europe and Asia goes through those” cables.

Late last month, Seacom, a company that specializes in providing communications to African countries, noticed that data had stopped flowing through its line that runs from Mombasa, Kenya, up through the Red Sea to Zafarana in Egypt.

At the same time two cables linking West to East were knocked out, affecting 25 percent of traffic through the area, according to an estimate by HGC Global Communications, a Hong Kong-based telecommunications company.

In an interview from his office in Johannesburg, Prenesh Padayachee, Seacom’s chief digital and operations officer, said the damage to his company’s cable occurred on the bottom of the Red Sea, in Yemeni waters about 650 feet deep. The two other damaged cables are nearby.

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