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Broadband Disrupted to Shetland After Subsea Fibre Cables Break UPDATE

Thursday, Oct 20th, 2022 (10:38 am) - Score 5,248

Homes and businesses on Shetland, which is a remote subarctic archipelago that resides some way north of Scotland, have suffered two breakages to different parts of their main SHEFA-2 (Faroese Telecom) submarine (subsea) fibre optic cable. As a result, a lot of broadband and phone connections on the island are being disrupted.

The cable is the same one installed on land by Shetland Telecom some years ago, which is supplied by a submarine fibre that connects via the undersea SHEFA-2 line. The cable actually reaches Shetland via two landing sites, including one stretch that goes North West up to the Faroe Islands and another cable that runs south towards Orkney and the Scottish Mainland.

The situation technically started last week after the link between Shetland and Faroe was broken. The cause of that break has not yet been ascertained, although the most likely reason tends to be ships dragging their anchors across the cable or fishing trawlers dragging large nets in the same way (fishing fleets usually know where the cables run).

However, the disruption from that first break was limited as the second link south was still running, but all that changed yesterday morning after the southern cable link to Orkney also suffered a break. As a result, there has been a much more significant disruption to island connectivity, although some broadband and phone lines are still functional.

An Openreach spokesperson said (Shetland News):

“Due to a break in a third-party subsea cable connecting Shetland with the Scottish mainland, some phone, broadband and mobile services are affected.

Engineers are working to divert services via other routes as soon as possible and we’ll provide further updates. Our external subsea provider is also looking to restore their link quickly.

Anyone who needs to call 999 should try their landline or their mobile, even if they don’t have signal from their own mobile provider. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.”

A cable repair ship was already busy repairing the first break on the north-west subsea link and is due to finish soon (we’re told the current expectation is Saturday), at which point it’s likely that this ship could be re-tasked to fix the southern break. Such breaks can sometimes take weeks to complete, but that’s partly due to the delay in arranging for a cable repair ship to be dispatched, which may not be such an issue this time.

We should add that the Scottish Government‘s £35m subsea fibre project with Openreach (BT) and Global Marine (here), which aims to connect 15 remote islands around northern Scotland via 16 new fibre optic cable links, will also include the deployment of an additional subsea link between Shetland and Orkney (this is not yet live).

UPDATE 24th Oct 2022

Shetland Telecom’s Marvin Smith has kindly issued a quick update: “Shefa2 between Shetland and Faroe has been repaired. The cable ship is now heading for Faroe to pick up more cable before returning to repair the cable between Shetland and the Mainland. The vessel is estimated to be on site Tuesday.”

The suggestion is that one of the two breaks appears likely to be attributable to a fishing trawler.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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15 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Chris says:

    I wonder if any Russian submarines have been hanging around our Northern isles recently…

    There was a time when such a comment would have been a ridiculous suggestion…

    1. Avatar photo Kyle McDonald says:

      USS New Hampshire was in the area recently.

    2. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      Isolating the Shetlands by cutting both sides of SHEFA-2 would be an extraordinarily low impact action given the stakes.

      The French apparent vandalism is alarming. Could be anything from a nation state, unlikely, to a disgruntled ex-employee.

    3. Avatar photo Aled says:

      You have to consider certain trends of late.
      Two German subsea gas pipelines bombed last week.
      Two British Shetland cables cut within 1 week.
      A major French subsea cable is cut today.
      Last week the German train company ‘Deutsche Bahn’ noted a major sabotage of a primary comms node, bringing all trains in the region to a stop.

      Bit of a pattern really? Looks like a message.

    4. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      Indeed. Unlikely but I certainly couldn’t exclude it.

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Russia were carrying out low-level kinetic attacks on infrastructure to go alongside their cyber work. Unhappy as it’s an escalation but denying it would be wishful thinking.

  2. Avatar photo DI Jimmy Pérez says:

    If anyone on Shetland Isles had Internet…

    The could look up the subsea cable page to see where their cable routes.

    They could then look up Marine Traffic to see which vessels were in the area at the breakage time?

    1. Avatar photo James says:

      It depends if boat has turned off position indicaton. If working illegally in area near cable then probably have system turned off as they will know from their charts where the subsea cables are.

    2. Avatar photo Declan M says:

      Still a DI thought you’d have been sacked by now Jimmy

  3. Avatar photo Chris says:

    Another cable cut South of France:

    “We are aware of a major cable cut in the South of France that has impacted major subsea cables with connectivity to Asia, Europe, US and potentially other parts of the world.”


    I don’t see the name of the cable in the post.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      There are quite a lot of subsea cables in the world, and they do break from time to time. SHEFA-2 has already been broken several times in its relatively young life, and I don’t think we’ve covered all of them. It’s more likely to occur near busy shipping channels.

  4. Avatar photo Hel says:

    Also just this afternoon one of the cables has just broke linking guernsey and France.

  5. Avatar photo Mike says:

    Submarine sniffers have been very active lately around the isles. There is more to this story than anchors dragging on the sea bed. It is all been kept quiet including major hacks that have happened. They dont want Russia to have any kudos. Dont forget this is a propaganda war

  6. Avatar photo Philip Jansen says:

    Must have been local Openreach engineer with being on strike ✊️CWU

  7. Avatar photo A_Builder says:

    Well there is a very significant radar station up there: Saxa Vorde….does that help this make more sense?

    “ To lose one fibre link may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness”

Comments are closed

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