Gaza shockwaves extend to Red Sea submarine cables

Four submarine telecoms cables have been cut in the Red Sea, near the area in which the Houthies of Yemen have been attacking commercial shipping.

Scott Bicheno

March 5, 2024

3 Min Read
source: google maps

HGC (formerly known as Hutchison Global Communications) published an update on an incident that occurred around a week ago. “Among 15+ submarine cables in the Red Sea, 4 of them (Seacom, TGN, AAE-1, EIG) are cut which we estimated impact 25% of traffic,” said the announcement. “Around 15% of Asia traffic goes west-bound, while 80% of those traffic will pass through these submarine cables in the Red Sea.”

So a small but still significant proportion of telecoms traffic between Hong Hong, where HGC is based, and Europe via the Middle East, is affected. HGC spent the rest of the announcement stressing what a great job it’s doing of mitigating any consequent disruption. It has so far made no comment about the likely cause of the damage.

Two explanations seem most likely: accidental damage from a ship’s anchor, or sabotage. This incident coincides with a period in which the Houthis, who currently run the Red Sea country of Yemen, have been attacking commercial shipping of its coast. The apparent reason for this is opposition to Israel’s military activity in Gaza, which the Houthies oppose. Their broader geopolitical philosophy in opposition to Israel and its allies is fairly explicit.

It does, however, seem unlikely that the Houthies have the resources to directly attack cables hundreds of meters under the sea, so the more probable explanation is that this is collateral damage caused by a stricken ship being forced to put down an anchor. We’ll presumably never know, but the Houthies were quick to plead innocence.

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Finding the truth in warzone is notoriously difficult. Not only do you have to contend with the fog-of-war itself, but belligerents tend to shamelessly propagandise. It seems that, at the end of last year, Houthi-linked sources made veiled threats towards Red Sea cables in a Telegram post. The exiled Yemeni government has also warned the Houthies may try something like this.

More broadly, telecoms infrastructure seems to be an increasingly popular focus of belligerent geopolitical strategy. Last year it was reported that China was impeding subsea internet cable projects for reasons best known to its leaders. In 2022, the year Russia invaded Ukraine, subsea cables were cut in the North Atlantic, leading to unconfirmed speculation of Russian foul play. There seems to be enough redundancy built into the global telecoms infrastructure system for it to roll with these punches so far, but there’s no guarantee that will always be the case.

UPDATE – 13:00, 7 March 2024:

We received an emailed statement from Dr. Thomas King, Chief Technology Officer of DE-CIX, which rents capacity on submarine cables in the Red Sea as part of its global network. Here are some excerpts from it.

“According to the information we have, the cause of the damage was the anchor of a freighter that the Houthi rebels had attacked. At some point, the crew abandoned the ship and dropped anchor so that the unmanned ship would not drift out of control. Unfortunately, the anchor did not hold, and the drifting wreck dragged the anchor across the seabed, rupturing the three affected lines before the ship finally sank.

“Given that we always work with redundant connections, the impact of the incident is not critical for DE-CIX customers… We plan in such a way that we can fully compensate for the failure of at least one submarine cable, and we can always use different data pathways. We generally expect damage to submarine cables to take two to three months to repair because special ships are needed for this.

“In terms of the impact on Internet users in Europe and Asia, if Internet service providers and carriers have built their networks redundantly and therefore resiliently, Internet users should not experience any disruption.”

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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