Telem assesses damage to cable that caused internet blackout

POSTED: 09/6/11 2:06 PM

St. Maarten – TelEm Group is busy assessing Sunday’s damage to the SMPR-1 submarine cable which left St. Maarten with limited international voice and data services.
A dive company has been contracted to survey the SMPR-1 cable in the vicinity of the Great Bay Beach to report on the extent of the damage.
A U.S.A.-based company that repairs undersea cables has also been alerted and plans are being made to effect repairs as soon as the damage assessment report is completed.

TelEm Group is satisfied that contingency plans put in place in the event of damage to the SMPR-1 cable could be put into effect to restore international voice and data services as quickly as possible during the early hours of Monday morning.

Company technicians and engineers succeeded in rerouting international traffic via an overland connection to SMITCOMS’ SMPR-1 cable on the French side at approximately 5:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

International connections were lost again one hour later. The connections were once again restored at approximately midnight on Sunday with the assistance of telecom partners on the French side and in Puerto Rico.

In restoring international voice and data services to the island TelEm Group has performed what it calls a physical passive cross connect procedure connecting working parts of the SMPR-1 cable to a connecting station in Puerto Rico.

Personnel have been monitoring the performance of the new connections throughout the day Monday, reporting that the connections are stable and without incident.

As a result of Sunday’s outage, Blackberry, internet, ATM, international calling and roaming services were lost to all major telecommunication carriers on St. Maarten.

The connections made are a temporary fix while assessment and repairs are carried out to the damaged portion of the SMPR-1 cable on the Dutch side. TelEm Group assured residential and business clients in a press release issued last evening “that these temporary connections are at the full bandwidth capacity carried on the damaged permanent undersea cable link.

“Full repair and restoration of the damaged portion of the SMPR-1 cable is our number one priority right now,” said Chief Technical Officer Eldert Louisa after a conference meeting with undersea cable experts Monday. “Our staff was out as soon as the damage was reported and they worked diligently with our telecom partners to restore international voice and data services to St. Maarten as quickly as possible.”

Louis said TelEm Group has secured re-routed international traffic for business continuity and now his technicians and engineers can concentrate on the repairs and also the cause of the damage.

The CTO says as of Monday evening, no one has accepted responsibility for the damage, which is believed to have been caused by one of two possible ships anchored close to where the cable was damaged. A report from the St. Maarten Ports Authority (SMPA) has been requested.

“We are monitoring tapes to determine what caused the damage and at this stage we are appealing to the vessel that caused the damage to own up so that we can put procedures in place to prevent a similar incident happening in the future,” continued Mr. Louisa.

TelEm Group Chief Financial Officer, Mrs. Helma Etnel said Sunday’s damage to the SMPR-1 cable has raised some important discussions about new investments in cable redundancy options for the SMPR-1 cable, particularly how funds can be made available and how all stakeholders can play their part.

“There are redundancies in place in the event of damage to the SMPR-1 cable but these are limited and we now have to review these along with some of the recommendations made in the past,” said Mrs. Etnel.

She said previous investment estimates have put ideal redundancy options into the millions of dollars category.

“Considering the importance of the SMPR-1 it is clear that we have to talk about shared funding and the participation of all stakeholders in the additional redundancy required for St. Maarten,” added Mrs. Etnel.

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