Major boost to global repair fleet as Orange launches brand-new cable ship

Major boost to global repair fleet as Orange launches brand-new cable ship

The announcement from telecom giant Orange of the launch recently of Sophie Germain, its new cable ship, has been picked up with some enthusiasm in the African technology press.

It’s not too surprising, perhaps. As Bloomberg puts it, the number of subsea cables has soared in the past decade to meet growing demand for data-hungry internet services — but most of the vessels in the global fleet of repair ships are decades old. Meanwhile the number of cable breakages is climbing.

So a brand-new ship is something of a novelty and this ship is definitely of interest to Africa as it will help maintain the 70,000 kilometres of cable allowing internet traffic to flow between Europe, Africa and Asia.

The Sophie Germain is 100 metres long and, according to Bloomberg, is equipped with an underwater robot that can dive down 3,000 metres and lift a damaged cable to the surface to be fixed. Once the work is done, the robot buries the sealed cable in a trench in the ocean floor. The whole process takes about three days.

Orange is apparently contractually bound to send out Sophie Germain or another repair ship based in Sicily within 24 hours of a customer flagging a cable fault.

There’s even an environmental angle to this launch. As Orange says: “Building a new cable ship represents a larger investment than the conversion of an existing vessel but means that Orange benefits from a ship with a minimal environmental footprint that is fully equipped to meet growing global connectivity needs.”

Of course Orange has experience in cable building as well as cable repair, notably via the 2Africa cable consortium.

Cable damage is most often caused by fishing activity or anchors, although sometimes earthquakes and rockfalls are to blame – as in the widely reported incident this August when a rockfall in the Congo Canyon caused breaks in two undersea cables.


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