A team of researchers co-led by Angola Cables has revealed important findings that present valuable insights for the routing and protection of future subsea cables and what has possibly been causing some of the more recent cable outages.

What has been discovered is that the cable fault on the South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) cable was likely caused by an exceptionally large and powerful submarine mudslide that originated at the mouth of the Congo River, just 10 days after the Congo River recorded its largest flood since the 1960s. Sand and mud from the river flood were presumably remobilized, triggering the submarine mudslide that flowed through the offshore Congo Canyon. The canyon is one of the largest underwater canyons on earth, cutting across the continental shelf of West Africa for 85 kilometers until it reaches the shelf edge, then continues down the slope and ends 280 kilometers from its origin. At its deepest point, the V-shaped canyon walls are 1100 meters in height.

β€œDepending on the proximity of cable repair vessels, outages can often take a number of weeks to repair resulting in costly losses to economies impacted by such breaks,” said Professor Peter J. Talling, a member of the research team.

The study was conducted by Professor Peter J. Talling and a team from the Departments of Earth Sciences and Geography, from the University of Durham in the UK, co-led by Angola Cables and supported by industry members including, the Vodafone Group, British Telecom, NERC Environmental, and others.

It is estimated that around 1.2 million kilometres of subsea cable carrying power and transmitting data currently transverse continents and geographies across the world. Most of these cables are either buried in the seabed or rest on the ocean floor.

Nearly 75% of the damage caused to these cables are the result of being snagged or damaged by the anchors of ships. Deep see cable faults in water depths of more than 1,000 meters below the sea level, are almost always caused by natural events such as current abrasion, underwater landslides and underwater seismic activity. Often the problem with deep water faults is that they are not as easy to detect and can impact multiple cables – making recovery and repair efforts both lengthy and costly to cable operators.

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