Undersea Robot Searches for Severed Cables

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A robot submarine was scouring the seabed 200 meters under the Mediterranean Sea on Monday trying to locate the ends of undersea cables that were cut on Friday, disrupting voice and Internet traffic.

France Telecom said its repair ship the Raymond Croze had reached the site on Sunday between Sicily and Tunisia where two of its cables were cut, disrupting traffic between Europe and many countries in Asia and the Middle East.

The robot submarine must now locate the ends of the cables and haul them to the surface for repairs, said Jean-Bernard Orsoni, a spokesman for France Telecom. The company, which is part of a consortium that owns the cables, expects the repairs to be completed Thursday, he said, though the company has said normal service may not be resumed until Dec. 31.

A third cable, operated by India's Reliance Globalcom, was also cut Friday. The repair ship Teliri was still en route to the site Monday, and Reliance hopes to have its cable repaired by the end of the week weather permitting, a spokesman said via e-mail.

Voice and IP (Internet Protocol) traffic were rerouted to minimize disruptions but some communications still were affected over the weekend. "It's not only France Telecom's customers who are having trouble but all people in Europe who want to communicate with Asia and the Middle East," Orsoni said.

Reliance said its IP traffic to Asia was automatically diverted via the Pacific, and that its customers had access to Internet services. "However, they may face some congestion and increased latency for the European sites," said the Reliance spokesman, who asked not to be named.

"The voice services of Reliance Communications to all destinations are working smoothly without any loss of connectivity," he added.

It was still not known on Monday how the cables had been cut. France Telecom has said it suspected a ship's anchor or an undersea earthquake. The cables affected were the Sea Me We 4 and Sea Me We 3, which connect countries between Western Europe and Southeast Asia, and the Flag Europe Asia cable, which stretches from the U.K. to Japan. All were cut between 7:28 and 8:06 GMT Friday morning.

Immediately following the cuts, average network response times between India and the rest of the world increased to three to four times their normal level, while network availability dropped at one point to 72 percent, according to Keynote Systems, which measures Web site performance. Performance and availability to India had returned to "almost normal" after 1 p.m. GMT Friday but continued to fluctuate.

Keynote said its measurement agents in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan noticed only very brief interruptions. But the company did note a significant slowdown in Singapore and nearby Malaysia, which it said was the worst affected in the region.

Keynote said it would have more up to date figures later Monday.

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