Report On Submarine Cables In Sargasso Sea

January 23, 2015

A report — Submarine Cables in the Sargasso Sea: Legal and Environmental Issues in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction — has been released by the Sargasso Sea Commission, Centre for International Law of the National University of Singapore [CIL], George Washington University Law School, and the International Cable Protection Committee [ICPC].

The ICPC said the report is the “first ever multidisciplinary effort” by scientists, the submarine cable industry, and government experts from Bermuda, the UK and the USA to study the environmental impacts of modern submarine fibre-optic telecommunications cables in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction [ABNJ] and the high seas.

The report said, “There are presently eight submarine communications cable systems transiting the Sargasso Sea providing telecommunications to various jurisdictions including the United States, the United Kingdom, Bermuda, France, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil and the Netherlands.”

“Representatives from the submarine cable industry emphasized the critical importance of submarine communications cables which are the backbone of the international telecommunications system.

“They transport more than 98 % of international Internet, data and telephone traffic. Submarine cables also facilitate the huge numbers of financial transactions that occur on a daily basis.”

Free-floating sargassum in the Sargasso Sea. Photo via University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast:

sargasso

“The global cable network is composed of approximately 213 independent cable systems totaling about 877, 122 kilometers of fiber optic cables. Only a few countries remain isolated from fiber connectivity and many of them have cable projects underway.

“It was pointed out that Bermuda itself was a major center for international insurance and re-insurance and relied on four submarine cables that linked the island’s economy to the world”

The report added, “One of the crucial issues discussed was the nature and frequency of cable operations within the Sargasso Sea. Representatives from the cable industry explained that there are presently 8 cable systems transiting the Sargasso Sea.

“The majority of these cable systems follow the Great Circle routes between the United States and the United Kingdom on the northern border of the Sargasso Sea. There are no cable systems through the central section of the Sargasso Sea except those to Bermuda.”

“The Sargasso Sea is mostly deep-ocean which has implications for the type of cable used, as well as cable-laying techniques. The cables are very small in diameter and inert with polyethylene covering.

“Further, they are laid on the surface and cable burial is not utilized in this area. Cables are also not laid on seamounts as this would pose a hazard to cables which are best protected on a flat and uninteresting seabed.”

“It was generally agreed that there is a relatively low amount of cable activity within the Sargasso Sea and this would remain the status quo in the near future. The last transatlantic cable was installed in 2002 between New Jersey and Bermuda.”

The full 49-page report follows below [PDF here]:

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