Shetland cut off after undersea cable broken

Only submarine internet cable that links islands to UK mainland is thought to have been damaged by trawler

Police on the Shetland Islands have asked residents to avoid making non-urgent calls. AFP
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Most mobile networks and internet communications were cut off on Thursday on Scotland's remote, oil-rich Shetland Islands following what is believed to be an accidental break in their main submarine internet cable.

The UK’s biggest broadband network owner BT Group Plc described it as a “a major incident” but said no malicious activity was suspected in the event, which was being attributed to a trawler boat fishing on the seabed.

The Shetland Islands are located 210 kilometres north-east of the UK and are connected with the mainland via the Shefa-2 fibre optic submarine cable that also links the Faroe and Orkney Islands to Scotland. The cable was deployed in 2007.

A representative for Faroese Telecom said by phone that they believed the damage to be accidental from a passing ship.

“Faroese Telecom spotted the damage via marine tracking being done by a trawler in the area and reported this to the UK Coastguard,” a BT spokesman said by email.

“They are working with us on reroute options as a result of this accidental damage and to repair their cable as soon as possible.”

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BT said some phone, broadband, TV and mobile services are affected, apologised for any inconvenience, and said that anyone who needed to call 999 should try their landline or their mobile “even if they don’t have signal from their own mobile provider.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the situation is “very serious” for Shetland.

“The Scottish government’s resilience committee has met and is working closely with partner agencies to ensure support for those who need it, and that the cable damage can be repaired and services restored asap,” she tweeted.

MP for Orkney and Shetland Alastair Carmichael said it could be days before power is restored.

Repairs to another cable that connects the Shetland and Faroe Islands were under way after it was damaged last week. That cable is expected to be repaired on Saturday.

Police on the island have asked island residents to avoid making non-urgent calls.

“We are advising people not to make non-urgent calls for the time being so that all available lines can be used for emergencies if required,” Superintendent David Ross said.

Updated: October 21, 2022, 4:52 AM