Germany Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Baltic Sea - undersea cable to Hiddensee island.
Photograph by Jens Köhler—ullstein bild/Getty Images
By David Meyer
April 9, 2018

The West African nation of Mauritania lost all internet access for 48 hours due to an undersea cable break, according to infrastructure analysts.

The break, which took place a couple weeks ago, provides a reminder of how much internet users rely on the cables that connect their countries.

According to Dyn, the Oracle-owned internet performance firm, the African Coast to Europe (ACE) cable was cut near Noukachott in Mauritania on March 30. It’s not clear what caused the break, but six countries entirely rely on that one cable for their connectivity, and all—Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and the Gambia—saw a big impact.

The impact in Mauritania was the worst, with its two-day outage, while Sierra Leone also had big problems. The latter country also had a big outage on April 1, but that may well have been down to government action—African governments are notorious for interfering with citizens’ internet access, particularly around election time or during periods of unrest.

Recent years have seen several incidents involving submarine cable cuts that caused major internet disruption. Ships’ anchors are often the culprits—one managed to take out three cables off the Channel Islands in 2016, while anchor-related breaks caused chaos across the Middle East and India in 2008, and much of East Africa in 2012.

Egypt provided a more bizarre example in 2013, when the authorities arrested three scuba divers whom they accused of trying to slice a major cable near Alexandria.

However, Egypt and most other countries are served by multiple cables, which obviously reduces the impact caused by one being broken. In its blog post on the latest outage in West Africa, Dyn noted that the impact of the ACE break “appeared to be nominal” in Benin, which is also served by a second major cable.

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