Sunday cable break spares Australia

Southern Cross Cable Network suffered a break in its Australia-U.S. cable on Sunday but the impact to customers was limited by the fortunate weekend timing, a spokesman for the company said. The break had limited impact because it happened at 7.45 am on Sunday morning, he said.

If the break, which disrupted Southern Cross's services for around 15 hours, had occurred in the middle of the week, the effect would have been much more severe, according to Ross Pfeffer, director of the Asia-Pacific network for Southern Cross.

"The timing was helpful," Pfeffer said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "But 20 of our customers suffered disruption and there would have been some disruption to general Internet connectivity."

Southern Cross sells cable capacity to global and regional telecommunication carriers and to local ISPs (Internet service providers). The 120G bps (bits per second) cable network connects Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii to the west coast of the U.S.

The disruption of service occurred even though Southern Cross has a back-up cable. That second cable was out of action undergoing maintenance at the time of the break, which occurred 20 kilometers from Sydney during a major storm. Another cable, Tasman-1, which connects Australia and New Zealand, was damaged at the same time and place.

"We suspect that the break was caused by a ship -- a very large ship -- dragging its anchor during the storm," Pfeffer said.

The storm over the weekend was so severe, with swells of up to 10 meters, that Sydney port was closed, and many ships, including the giant P&O cruise liner Pacific Sky were forced to stay out to sea. Pfeffer declined to identify the ship suspected of causing the break.

If Southern Cross had not had a back-up cable, forming a 30,500-kilometer protected loop network, the disruption would have been more like 15 days, the time it is expected to take to repair the cable, Pfeffer said.

A repair ship is expected to arrive at the scene within two or three days to assess the damage and begin repairs, Pfeffer said. Although Southern Cross believes it knows the identity of the ship which broke the cables, it has not started considering possible compensation, according to Pfeffer.

"There probably are some avenues of redress," he said.

Southern Cross promises network availability of above 99.999 percent, according to its Web site, which equates to downtime of five minutes per year.

Southern Cross is owned by Telecom New Zealand Ltd. (50 percent), Cable & Wireless Optus Ltd. (40 percent) and WorldCom Inc. (10 percent).

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