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Tongans ‘must wait another week’ as repair ship seeks 80km of new cable

Shally Jannif Digicel.jpg

Last month’s volcano destroyed or damaged more than 80km of subsea cable connecting the Pacific islands of Tonga to Fiji.

That is about 10% of the whole 827km-long Tonga Cable, which was broken on 15 January by the eruption of the undersea volcano Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai.

Samiuela Fonua, the chair of Tonga Cable, the state-owned company that owns the crucial undersea cable, said at the weekend that repairs will take longer than expected.

One of the problems is that the cable ship Reliance, which is on site, does not have enough cable that belongs to Tonga Cable. However, the crew has located both ends of the damaged section.

However, according to Shally Jannif (pictured), the Fiji-based regional CEO of Digicel, the ship does have stocks on board belonging to other operators.

Tonga Cable is talking to the owners of the other stocks to get them to agree that they can use it.

“So hopefully by early next week we will have connectivity on the international cable,” Jannif told Capacity this morning.

Operators in the region belong to the South Pacific Marine Maintenance Agreement (SPMMA), a cooperative of subsea cable companies. That co-op owns the depot on the island of Samoa from which the Reliance collected stocks two weeks ago before heading to Tonga.

The Reliance has not yet had time to check the other broken cable, the 410km Tonga Domestic Cable Extension, which connects the main island, Nuku’alofa, with two outlying islands to the north, Neiafu and Pangai.

The volcano also damaged that, but very close to the Tonga Cable break.

Satellite services have stepped in to restore some connectivity to Tonga, including US-based Intelsat, Singapore-based Kacific and Luxembourg-based SES.

Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, a team from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is in Fiji setting up a ground station that can connect Tonga via the Starlink satellite network.

Musk had earlier asked, via Twitter, “Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?”

Starlink satellites orbit at only 550km above the Earth’s surface, so need ground stations within a relatively short distance – as both ends of the link need to be in view of a single satellite at the same time.

There are already 2,000 Starlink satellites in orbit so far, but more are joining the fleet. However, SpaceX had a setback last week when a solar storm destroyed 40 out of 49 new satellites, all launched on 3 February.

 

 

 

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