Tonga undersea cable needs 'at least' four weeks to repair: NZ

Tonga undersea cable needs 'at least' four weeks to repair: NZ

Its only undersea cable was destroyed in an eruption, cutting it off from the rest of the world.


A key undersea cable that was destroyed in a volcano eruption in Tonga may take at least four weeks to be repaired, said New Zealand's foreign ministry.

The cable was severed during a volcanic eruption on Saturday, crippling communications and cutting the Pacific island off from the outside world.

The eruption also caused a tsunami, which left at least three dead - including a British national.

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Teams have been working round the clock to get vital supplies to the region.

"US cable company SubCom advises it will take at least four weeks for Tonga's cable connection to be repaired," a statement by New Zealand's foreign affairs ministry said on Wednesday.

SubCom, a repair contractor for more than 50,000 km (31,070 miles) of cable in the South Pacific, said it was working with telecommunications company Tonga Cable to mobilise a ship for the cable repairs, Reuters reported.

Tonga has been unable to establish contact with the rest of the world since Saturday's violent eruption severed the country's only underwater cable in two places.

Scant communication has been established since then, enabled only through a few satellite phones mainly held by foreign embassies in the capital city Nuku'alofa. Many Tongans abroad have since been waiting to hear news from loved ones.

Telecommunications firm Digicel is expected to set up an interim 2G connection today that prioritises voice and SMS communications, the statement added.

However the connection is expected to be "limited and patchy", covering about 10% of regular capacity.

This is not the first time Tonga's only undersea cable has been damaged. A bout of bad weather in 2019 inflicted unexpected damage on the cable, causing a near total blackout of mobile and internet services for the 100,000 residents in the island nation.

Amanda Watson, a research fellow from the Australian National University's Department of Pacific Affairs, said the incident highlighted the importance of telecommunications and internet access in Pacific island nations. Several of them only have one underwater cable each.

"It would be ideal if each country could have more than one cable, in order to provide for some redundancy in the event that one cable is damaged," she said.