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Red Sea Subsea Cables Disrupted

01 March 2024 Geollect

Bottom Line Up Front: Early on the 24th February 2024, reporting began to emerge indicating that subsea cables had been damaged in the Red Sea, in close proximity to the epicentre of Houthi targeting against shipping. It is unclear how severe such disruption is, but presently it is reportedly affecting internet traffic flow between Africa and Europe. There is a realistic possibility the Houthi group are responsible, but further investigation is required.

What is being reported?

Early reporting from Cyber Security monitoring group NETBLOCKS state that three subsea cables have been damaged as of 26th February 2024. They are as follows:

SEACOM: A statement from SEACOM confirms there is disruption, but that this is limited to the segment of the cable that runs from Mombasa (Kenya) to Zafarana (Egypt). The damage appears to have occurred within the Red Sea.

AAE-1: Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE-1) is a 25,000km submarine cable from South-East Asia to Europe across Egypt, connecting from Hong Kong to France. At the time of reporting, it is unclear as to the extent of the damage.

EIG: The Europe India Gateway (EIG) is a 15,000km international fibre optic submarine cable system that links 12 countries across 3 continents, Europe, Africa and Asia. It passes directly through the Bab al Mandab strait. Presently, the reported disruption to communications systems – primarily internet – is affecting the Gulf States, India and Eastern Africa.

What is the likely cause? 

Given the proximity to the incidents in vicinity of the Bab al-Mandab strait, initial reporting suggests that this is linked to a deliberate Houthi sabotage which is a realistic possibility. Yemen Telecom accused the Houthis of threatening subsea cables earlier in February, sighting a map posted on a Houthi affiliated Telegram channel and accompanying messaging seemingly implying it was a target. Whilst more investigation is required to make a solid assessment, such an attack would match the Houthi's modus operandi of targeting a high profile, asymmetric target that would cause maximum disruption. As a proxy, it cannot be discounted that this also may have had state influence from elsewhere.

Why is this significant?

  1. Global impact on communications. If the disruption has been caused by deliberate sabotage, the cost of the Houthi's freedom of action will have just increased significantly, affecting many nations who were otherwise uncommitted to the conflict.

  2. Demonstration of capability by non-state actor. If proven deliberate, such an act will highlight how even non-state actors can target subsea infrastructure with relatively limited capabilities.

  3. Further escalation. Such an act would prove a further escalation to the crisis, despite western efforts to compel the Houthis to cease via targeted airstrikes.


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