Speculation grows after spate of damage to European comms cables

Incidents in the North Atlantic and southern France have led to speculation of deliberate sabotage of European communications links.

The Shetland Islands north of Scotland experienced two separate incidents of damage to subsea cables. Recently. First its connection to the Faroe islands was damaged, then the cable linking it to the Scottish mainland was cut. The former is apparently managed by Faroese Telecom, while the latter falls within BT’s remit.

“Following the restoration of all broadband and mobile services to Shetland on Thursday afternoon, Faroese Telecom has confirmed today (Saturday) that their subsea cable connecting Shetland with the Faroe Islands has been successfully repaired,” said a BT spokesperson. “All services have remained stable since Thursday afternoon when engineers applied a temporary solution to reconnect Shetland to our network.”

The official line is that the damage was caused by fishing vessels but, as Faroese Telecom’s head of infrastructure Páll Vesturbú said in the BBC report: “We expect it will be fishing vessels that damaged the cable but it is very rare that we have two problems at the same time.”

Separately the Washington Post reports French police are investigating multiple cuts to fibre cables in Marseille. This was corroborated by tweets from the Free Mobile network team account, which attribute the damage to acts of vandalism.

While the Washington Post piece only briefly flirts with the possibility of a coordinated sabotage campaign, the UK’s Sun explicitly speculated about Russian involvement, citing the proximity of a research ship originating from that country at around the time of the damage was done to the Shetland cables. It should be stressed that the report offers no further evidence linking the incidents to Russian activity.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, with attacks on Ukrainian and possibly other infrastructure characterising the latest belligerence, it’s inevitable that speculation will head that direction when faced by such exceptional and largely unexplained incidents. We’ll presumably never know what caused them, and should be cautious of any claims to certainty on the matter, but if this sort of thing keeps happening suspicion of coordinated sabotage is bound to grow.


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