Cable Cuts: Who's up, who's down? Dennis Mbuvi

February 28, 2012
A map of undersea cables in Africa as of October 2011 (source:

Monday morning, we reported that a ship had cut two undersea cables , resulting to most Internet subscribers getting cut off. While the situation was critical around Saturday midday, when the cut occurred, many people appear to have been offline at the time and did not notice the cut. The situation has gradually improved over Saturday as providers shifted their traffic to other cable, though many users are still complaining of poor speeds, including inability to speed.
Operators have also come forward with statements regarding their status.
Chris Wood, CEO of West Indian Ocean Company (WIOCC), the largest investors in the East African Submarine System (EASSy) say that their cable was not cut on Saturday, contrary to what we reported. However, the cable suffered a cut 10 days earlier on February 17th when another ship dragged its anchor 105 on the ocean floor, cutting three cables, EASSy. SEA-ME-WE3 (South-East Asia - Middle East - Western Europe 3) and EIG (Europe India Gateway ) . EASSy carries its traffic to Europe via Djbouti, ahead of the position of the cut.

Over the weekend, Airtel, who had just launched their 3G network , was routing traffic through Orange,who are also shareholders on the EASSy cable. Reports also indicate that Orange Internet speeds are fast at the moment. Airtel services are also almost normal, though the operator, through social media, says the cuts have resulted into lower speeds.

Safaricom was the  most affected by the cut, being the largest private shareholder of the affected TEAMS cable with 22 per cent ownership and handling over 80 per cent of Kenya Internet subscribers. Safaricom had to route the traffic through other cables, a process which saw slow speeds as it did so. In addition, M-Pesa traffic , which is ran off Rackspace servers in the UK had to be routed through expensive satellite to maintain reliability. Nzioka Waita, the firm's Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs says the firm notified their subscribers of the cuts through social media , radio and television.

Kenya Data Networks, also a 10 per cent shareholder of TEAMS, says that its customers were barely affected as it equally routes its traffic through the three cables in Kenya - TEAMS, EASSy and SEACOM.

Zuku, provided by Wananchi, has also been badly affected by the cable cut. TEAMS being a locally owned cable is usually cheaper, hence preferred by mass market providers.

AccessKenya, which has normally performed fairly in previous cable cuts also appears to have been hugely affected by the cut.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication, Dr. Bitange Ndemo, also announced that three cables into the country share a landing station, and that this is normally the  standard practice. A fourth cable, LION2, owned by Orange, has however been required to find another landing station.

Orange CEO , Mikhael Ghossein, in an exclusive yet to be published interview,has said the LION2 cable has been at sea off the port of Mombasa for several months as the firm looks for a landing station. However, contrary to popular opinion, the LION2 cable is meant to provide alternative Internet access to Madagascar, Mauritius and other oceanic Islands, popularly referred to as The Islands.

At the moment, The Islands are connected to the Internet via SAT3, a cable which Munyao Longwe, an expert in Internet issues in Africa and among the first to offer commercial ISP services on the continent, says has one of the most expensive rates per Megabyte globally.

Repair on the TEAMS is expected to take 3 weeks.

Below, are statements from the various stakeholders.

Statement by Chris Wood, CEO, WIOCC

Dear Dennis,

I would like to correct you on a serious issue of misreporting. EASSy was NOT cut at the weekend off Mombasa. Only the TEAMS cable was cut - 5km from Mombasa. The EASSy cable is functioning normally from Mombasa.

EASSy did, however, suffer a cut on February 17th between Djibouti and Port Sudan. The cut to the EASSy cable only affects the section of cable between Port Sudan and Djibouti. The rest of the cable is working perfectly and due to the collapsed loop network configuration ("collapsed ring" protection mechanism") the impact on customers has been minimal. A second reason why the cut to EASSy did not have much impact on customers is because the vast majority of EASSy traffic exits Africa through Djibouti, and the cut happened to the north of Djibouti.

However, in the same incident, the SMW3 and EIG cables were also cut just north of Djibouti. It is believed that a cargo ship dragged its anchor over a distance of some 150km in the Red Sea cutting all three cables one after the other. SMW3 and EIG are used by EASSy owners to carry traffic from Africa to Europe. These cable cuts did impact EASSy users for a short period last week. Most EASSy owners also own capacity on other systems and have in-built redundancy in their networks. As such, most of the Africa to Europe traffic affected by the cuts to SMW3 and EIG has already been re-routed onto other systems, both in Djibouti and via South Africa – thus minimising the end user impact.

The SMW3 cable is due to be repaired by March 12th - this will restore most of the affected traffic on a direct path to Europe.

The EASSy and EIG cables are likely to be repaired by March 20th.

I cannot comment directly on the TEAMS cable cut repair timeline as I have no sight of this. Some TEAMS owners are in the process of re-routing traffic onto the EASSy system in Mombasa. This will reduce the impact in Kenya and other countries in East Africa while the repair to TEAMS is undertaken.



Chris Wood


Statement by TEAMS


Monday, February 27th, 2012...A major cut has occurred on the TEAMS (The East African Marine Systems) cable at the coast, cutting a crucial link for the bulk of internet and international voice traffic in the region.

The cut, which occurred on Saturday February 25, was caused by a ship off the coast of Mombasa. This resulted in complete loss of traffic.

"We wish to notify all our stakeholders of ongoing emergency repair works and apologize unreservedly for any inconvenience this may cause. The cable should be fully operational within the next three weeks," said TEAMS' General Manager Joel Tanui.

He added that TEAMS had already notified its shareholders and the undersea cable maintenance company E-Marine to commence repair work on the damaged cable. These works are expected to take about 3 weeks with maximum effort being made to reduce the downtime and its impact.

A landmark public-private partnership, TEAMS is the premier undersea cable system serving the entire East African region. Besides the Government of Kenya, the other shareholders in the TEAMS consortium include Safaricom, Jamii Telecom, Wananchi, Essar, Kenya Data Networks, Access Kenya, Telkom Orange and Bandwidth & Cloud Services.

Statement by SEACOM

27 FEBRUARY 2012

The SEACOM network is not experiencing any cable outages or international connectivity disruptions as a result of multiple cable cuts currently affecting other providers and carriers in the Gulf of Aden.

SEACOM is committed to assisting affected customers and cable providers with bandwidth options as required to minimize the impact this downtime has on the African Internet

Sattement by Safaricom


Monday, 27, 2012...Integrated communications company, Safaricom, has announced partial restoration of data service for its customers, following a cut that occurred on the critical TEAMS (The East African Marine Systems) undersea cable over the weekend.

Maritime officials have confirmed that a shipping vessel caused the cable cut at around midday on Saturday February 25, 2012. As a result, Safaricom customers experienced low internet speeds during the weekend as the firm actively cut over to alternative routes. Other services affected by the cut included international voice calls and Blackberry services.

To remedy the situation, Safaricom has successfully moved all its internet traffic to alternative routes, principally the Seacom undersea cable, resulting in partial recovery and resumption of services.

Safaricom has expressed its concern over the impact of this incident on data services in the region. The cable is one of the 3 routes for international connectivity in the East African region.

"We have been advised that owing to the highly specialised nature of the repair work, an external team has been despatched to Mombasa and that the operation may take as long as three weeks. We thank our customers for their patience and understanding during this time and assure them of our commitment to the best data experience in Kenya," said Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.


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