FLOW undertakes post-earthquake cable repairs
Telecommunications provider FLOW recently commissioned the CS Wave Sentinel vessel to repair two of its subsea fibre-optic cables that were damaged as a result of the 5.6-magnitude earthquake that occured on October 30, 2023.
Senior director for enterprise, government and product at C&W Business Delroy McLean told the Jamaica Observer that the the vessel also conducted maintainence work on other subsea cables to avert the possible of any future disruptions in its service should there be another earthquake equal to or greater than the one that took place almost six weeks ago.
“When the earthquake hit there was actually a shift in the undersea contours, so we actually [discovered] burying of the cables, and a lot of sand and silt and rock pulled our cables down, and that’s what actually resulted in the break. So the team here, they’ve actually been doing a lot of work to track back where the break was to lift that cable from the subsea,” he said.
The CS Wave Sentinel, which homeports in Curacao, spent over a month docked at the Kingston Wharves port, arriving on November 29 with a 60-member crew and departing Jamaica last evening. While here the crew repaired about six metres of CWL’s Cayman-Jamaica fibre system cables, which connect both countries to North and South America, using a remotely operated submarine called Atlas 2.
The exercise has allowed CWL to discover new routes for which it can lay new subsea cables in order to create service redundancy and mitigate the loss of communication. In fact, McLean pointed out that the telecomms provider has learnt a lot from 2004 passage of Hurricane Ivan, which greatly impacted Jamaica’s south coast where the main subsea cables are located.
At the same time, the director is counting his blessings, highlighting that the company continued to provide broadband, landline and mobile services despite the damaged cables.
“Jamaica, as a whole, wasn’t aware that there was actually an impact to two cable systems after the earthquake. So to Have Jamaica up and running and while having two simultaneously impacted cables is a marvel of what we’ve done and is a testament of FLOW and our team and our partners and our ability to create redundancy in Jamaica,” he informed the Business Observer.
While steering clear of the cost to repair the damaged cables, McLean revealed that “dispatching a single ship is not paid for in a single year”, adding that the investment was quite “significant”. He however noted that had there been a total loss of service across the island, the impact in terms of loss of business in sectors including tourism, travel, financial services, retail and distribution, and manufacturing could not be quantified.
Looking ahead, FLOW will continue to invest in infrastructure in Jamaica, including in its subsea fibre ring, as part of a US$550-million allocation to improve connectivity over the next three years.
“So in Jamaica we have a lot of on-land fibre [cables], but what they don’t know is that we have a subsea fibre ring that surrounds that island that allows us to move traffic around, and that kicked in to great effect as well. So we’ll continue that investment; we’re doubling down to ensure that we connect and serve many more communities in 2024… So as we continue that push we have a target, we have a deadline and we have to get everyone connected in short order,” McLean explained.
The investment will also cover increasing power sources, adding new routes for on-land and subsea fibre cables and implementing measures to reduce the impact of natural disasters.