TAIWAN: Cable repair vessels are on the way, says Chunghwa

Internet and other services disrupted by the Dec. 26 earthquakes off Taiwan's southern coast will be brought back to normal within the next two to three weeks

Taipei Times
Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Taipei and Hong Kong --- Chunghwa Telecom Co said yesterday that two repair ships will soon start fixing undersea cables damaged last week by an earthquake off Taiwan's coast that resulted in a major disruption to telephone and Internet links across Asia.

The two ships will take two to three weeks to complete their task, said Wu Chih-ming, a senior official at Chunghwa Telecom, the nation's largest telecommunications firm.

"The ships are expected to arrive in Taiwan today and tomorrow and will work at sea over the next two weeks," Wu said yesterday.

Two more ships would join later, he said, without elaborating.

Wu said one of the ships is Japanese-registered and sailed to Taiwan from Japan. The other, British-registered, sailed to Taiwan from the Philippines, he said. Both are specially equipped to repair undersea cables and had to complete other repair work before setting out for Taiwan.

Chunghwa Telecom estimates the repairs will cost about NT$50 million (US$1.5 million).

The Dec. 26 quake -- measured at magnitude 6.7 by the Central Weather Bureau and 7.1 by the US Geological Survey -- snapped undersea cables off Taiwan, cutting telecommunications across the region and leaving companies scrambling to reroute traffic through undamaged satellites and cables.

Services were gradually restored in the days following the quake, but have not fully recovered.

"We have restored all the services by re-routing," said a spokesman for KT Corp, South Korea's largest fixed line and broadband provider.

Voice and Internet access in Singapore was also "back to normal," said Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, Southeast Asia's largest operator.

"We've already restored the Internet service for both consumer and corporate customers," said Peter Heng, spokesman for Singapore Telecom.

In Hong Kong, services were operating at about 70 percent to 80 percent of usual capacity, a telecommunications official said, with six of seven submarine fiber-optic cable systems linking Hong Kong to the global Internet still awaiting repairs.

"There was no major congestion this morning. The situation is better than we thought," said Ha Yung-kuen of the Telecommunications Authority.

Residential Internet users would still experience some delays because service providers will give business users priority, he added.

Hong Kong's Office of the Telecommunications Authority said plans to repair one of at least eight cables damaged in the earthquake had to be delayed by a week after a ship sent to fix the cable broke down.

The repairs will be completed by the middle of the month, compared with an earlier estimate of Jan. 9, the agency's assistant director, Chan Tze-yee, said at a briefing.

"We expect we'll see the first cable repaired by the middle of this month, and the others should be repaired by the end of the month," Chan said.

The Hong Kong regulator's forecasts matched the timeline by Chunghwa Telecom last week.

In India, there were no major glitches reported, though industry officials called for better protection of undersea Internet cable routes.