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West African internet hit by damage to subsea communication cables

Marine industry service provider and P&I correspondent Budd Group has reported that, beginning Thursday March 14th, large swathes of West Africa had been experiencing a major internet outage. Damage was reported to four out of five critical submarine cables.

The disruption hit Ivory Coast, Liberia, Benin, Burkina Faso and elsewhere. It began on Thursday March 14th and has been causing significant connectivity issues for businesses in Ivory Coast, Benin and Burkina Faso.

The Liberia Telecommunications Authority said it was caused by an incident involving the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine communications cable in Ivory Coast. Over in Ghana, the National Communications Authority (NCA) reported that multiple undersea cable disruptions were responsible for the outage.

According to internet monitoring groups Netblocks and Cloudflare, the outage severity varied across the region. Ivory Coast appeared to be the most affected, while Liberia, Benin, and Burkina Faso were experiencing high disruption.

Internet connectivity in the Ivory Coast was down to around just 4% on Thursday morning, according to Netblocks. Liberia at one point dropped to 17% while Benin was at 14% and Ghana 25%, Netblocks said.

The BBC reported that widespread outages were reported on Thursday in countries including South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso. It said that, since then, services had largely been restored in Liberia and South Africa.

Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) spokesperson Reuben Muoka said that “The cuts occurred somewhere in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, with an attendant disruption in Portugal,”

In the Ivory Coast, internet providers switched to MOOV CI’s unscathed cable, but this had resulted in weaker bandwidths. Reportedly the cable damage occurred during work to reroute inland portions of the cables to a less exposed site, following the accidental severance of a cable during work on Abidjan’s Akwaba roundabout.

Budd said that the internet shutdown had posed a challenge for port operations in the affected countries. Liberia of course is one of shipping’s major flags. Budd’s local offices were advising clients, particularly P&I Clubs, to anticipate delays in communication with essential personnel. including local lawyers, adjusters, and port authorities. This could lead to delays in clearances, berthing arrangements, and handling cargo.

Budd noted that internet outages could also disrupt real-time vessel tracking, weather updates, and crucial safety information. Additionally, electronic data interchange (EDI) systems used for customs clearance and other trade documentation might be hampered, causing delays in port calls and cargo movement.

The outage could also disrupt online financial transactions, said Budd, which might impact payments to crew members, suppliers, and port fees. While traditional banking methods might still be available, they could lead to slower processing times and potential complications.

Telecom operators and authorities were working hard to assess the damage and initiate repairs. Budd’s Ivory Coast office has been told that repair works were expected to take at least one week, while testing might result in intermittent cuts for several weeks.