🤿The Strange Case of Whodunit! - The Submarine Cable Faults off the Coast of Côte d'Ivoire 🇨🇮

🤿The Strange Case of Whodunit! - The Submarine Cable Faults off the Coast of Côte d'Ivoire 🇨🇮

Submarine cable operators got everyone scratching their heads with their "submarine landslide" excuse. 🤔🌊 Yeah, right! Who's gonna buy that fishy story? 🐟🤷‍♂️ Turns out, the real culprit might be closer to shore than they want to admit!💥

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8 min read

On the 14th March 2024, 4 submarine cables were simultaneously knocked out of commission off the coast of Côte d'Ivoire.

The break dramatically effected connectivity in the greater African region as was reported on by MyBroadband:

Submarine cable operators are the master of obfuscation. The information and details provided is superficial and threadbare. Primarily, they want to protect their routes from vandalism and other nefarious actions. In this instance they offered the dubious causation of a submarine landslide. This explanation was blindly accepted by all and sundry but in my opinion was not rational. But how is anyone going to disprove an event that occurred more than 3km below the surface of the ocean? It is not probable that 4 cables are simultaneously affected as that amounts to a single point of failure. What was this single point of failure?

The video below is a documentary on one of the ships involved in the repair the Leon Thevenin.

The Trou sans Fond Canyon off the Coast of Abidjan

The immediate theory was that the cable break was in the Trou sans Fond, which is a canyon close off Abidjan and within the continental shelf. This is a smaller canyon and less active with water flows compared to the one off the coast of Congo. There have been cables breaks caused by flood waters within the Congo River and basin which have caused severe water flows off the coast, so why not in this case as well?

In this case the Trou sand Fond Canyon has been used in correspondence as just a generic landmark for the region but this has lead many observers to make the false assumption that it is the path for the actual submarine cables.

Congo River Flows Severs Cables

The causation of undersea landslides and rockfalls has indeed often been identified, as well as the cause of previous faults such as the fore mentioned incidents off the coast of Congo. The water flow from the river into the ocean at the Congo is indeed a great contributing factor in previous breaks but that does not mean all faults have a similar causation.

Debunking an underwater terrain event

This was all fake news by the Internet sleuths as there are a number of problems with this theory:

  • There were no flood waters. There is no similar activity reported in this region off the coast of Côte d'Ivoire to that which is experienced off the coast of Congo.

  • The cables do not transverse that canyon. The landing landing station for the cables is not at Abidjan but at Grand Bassam, further east along the coast. The operators would have been fools to route the cables along a path up that canyon. The course of the cable repair ships followed a straight line off Grand Bassam and they never transversed the Trou sans Fond directly off Abidjan.

  • There was no detected seismic activity. The undersea landslide theory was further debunked by the course of the repair ships which spread over a distance of 200km. A undersea landslide across the distance would have been felt in Abidjan and most probably taken down a few buildings with it. No such event happened and no detection was reported by the US Geological Society. The last rumbling In Johannesburg that made me jump out of bed was 70km away and at a depth of 10km and was immediately detected and notified by the US Geological Society.

  • There isn't any other recorded undersea landslide that has caused this much damage to so many cables simultaneously.

  • The probability of seismic activity in the region is very low with no major activity in recorded history.

  • The terrain maps of the seabed around which the cable repair ships operated are as flat as a pancake, raising the obvious question as to where is the source of the debris and rocks to do that much damage.

  • If you read their reports it was worded as a fault and not a break. No Toby Shapshak it was not severed.

This is the location of the landing station at Grand Bassam.

The area where the ships operated give an indication of the branch route which misses the canyon by a country mile. The screenshot below from Google Earth provides clarity of the precise position of the Canyon and the area of operations in repairing the fault.

"Bottomless pit"

The outer area of operations was 03° 09' 11.1" N, 004° 15' 50.6" W with all other activities in a straight line along the vector into Grand Bassam. At this location there is no bottomless pit as the US Navy data shows the terrain to vary less than 100m in depth for a radius of 50km around the position. If a 1:500 gradient is a bottomless pit then the potholes along Douglas Road are the equivalence of Kilimanjaro. Surely a bottomless pit with canyon avalanche sediments would be detected by radar profiles? Heck, those radars detect fish, never mind boulders! Claiming that photography would be the only proof is superfluous.

It was also circulated that the replaced repeaters weren't pulled to the surface as they were covered in canyon avalanche sediment. No, in reality would you pull up a failed repeater 4km, give it the once over or just cut it lose and replace it. I know that is what they do on all modern cars where dealers just replace parts and don't repair them! Also the location of the branching unit would be in close proximity and could possibly also have been in play. BTW: Please contact the US Navy so they can update their maps that there is a newly discovered canyon in the area of the WACS submarine cable and its repeater as currently they have no terrain variances on the ocean floor at that position.

Cable systems typically run 200km to 400km off shore and provide services to landing stations via branch lines off the main cables. The branch lines are also the source of power for the repeaters on the main submarine cable lines. In this particular incident it was clear that the repairs were conducted along the branch line.

Dogleg via the Trou sans Fond

In the minds of some who still blindly insist that all the cable ran up the Trou sans Fond in close proximity to each other and then just short of Abijan made a dogleg to the right to Grand Bassam. Lets investigate this assumption:

  • Multiple independent cable operators operators decided to run cables together up a narrow path in a 3km deep canyon. Who was the engineer on that? Mr Bean?

  • Doglegs close to shore on a continental shelf with a low depth and close to a busy harbour sounds like a perfectly good idea.

  • Then the only alternative to continue further to Lagos and onwards to Cape Town is to hairpin via the landing station and continue the route on the continental shelf. Or maybe they install a major branch unit a few kms offshore in major fishing grounds. Yes, and a rusty Mini Cooper from the Seventies is the perfect vehicle for shipping crates of bananas.

Whodunit?

So in this episode of Whodunit?, what actually happened. So we have a hint in the repair process. 2 ships were dispatched, namely Orange Marine's cable layer Léon Thévenin and Global Marine’s C.S. Sovereign. The Léon Thévenin directly steamed to repair the SAT3 cable and the C.S. Sovereign arrived later to replace repeaters. Repeaters are what amplifies signals on fibre cables and the following is a good reference:

Repairs conducted by C S Sovereign via philippe devaux / MyBroadband

The latest update from MyBroadband also never provided clear and apparent causation:

The events that caused this outage are more likely to be this scenario: A shunt caused a power fault and basically blew all the repeaters in that region. The shunt was most probably triggered by sea water compromising the integrity of the cable (my estimate is about 140km and at a depth of 3.4km off Grand Bassam). This was the location of the first repair by the Léon Thévenin and was related to the SAT3 cable. This was on the branch line along the route into Grand Bassam.

So what happened? Basically they installed a strip plug, similar to the one sold by Ellies, on the ocean floor and plugged in all the repeaters into that and ran an extension cord along the branch line into Grand Bassam. They had no power circuit isolation between the different cable systems. They probably did not get an electrical clearance certificate for their work either!🤦

SAT3 was the strip plug as it was the first cable installed and had power. So that was used and no second thought was made about ensuring power diversity.

The Missile that hit a ship

The feedback from cable operators is sometimes transparent when it suits them. This is highlighted in the outages on the East coast of Africa in the Red Sea, which is a separate problem as reported by MyBroadband:

The causation was rapidly offered and publicly identified which in this case was an act of terrorism:

The Angry Sharks

My best causation is sharks biting submarine cables. I put it to you that a deep diving shark is a better causation in this case than for the outages to have been triggered by the Earth rumbling. Maybe the operators should coat the cables in Calcium and Magnesium Carbonate?

The current status of the east coast links as reported via the SA Research Network highlights the outages via the East coast haven't been resolved:

Informative podcast

A good overview of submarine cables is available via this podcast. Listen in:

Originally published on LinkedIn by Ronald Bartels: