Beyond the Red Sea Blues: West Africa Faces Fresh Cable Faults


By Alan MauldinMar 15, 2024


As if three cable faults in the Red Sea weren’t enough of a headache, a series of West African cables were damaged on March 14.

The precise location and cause of all of these faults are not known at this time, but let’s look at what we do know.

Which cables are damaged?

Based on reports from multiple network operators in the region, the following cables are damaged:

It's not clear at this time if all four cables were damaged in the same event or if some had pre-existing faults. These cables join the previously damaged AAE-1, EIG, and SEACOM/TGN-Eurasia systems in the Red Sea, which remain out of service.

Which countries are most impacted?

At this time, there's no official word on all of the fault locations.

The Nigerian Communications Commission initially indicated the damage was somewhere between Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire. Other reports have identified the location as directly off Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Late on March 15, MainOne announced that their fault was indeed off of Côte d'Ivoire. The company state their initial assessment of the fault cause is seismic activity, but will have more insight once the cable is repaired.

CloudFlare has observed service disruptions for multiple countries starting south of Senegal, which may indicate damage to at least one cable somewhere off the coast of Senegal and Gambia.

Assuming that’s the possible demarcation point for damage, here’s a list of the coastal West African countries south of this line, the number of intercontinental cables linked to them, and their statuses:


For West African countries that rely solely on one of the damaged cables, this does not mean they have lost access to intercontinental connectivity. They could send traffic subsea or terrestrially to other countries that retain intercontinental cable connectivity. Systems still online include the new Equiano cable, as well as EASSy, Glo-1,  and Maroc Telecom West Africa.

Let’s also not forget that landlocked African countries like Botswana, Burkina Faso, Zambia, and Zimbabwe also rely on these cables for intercontinental connectivity and may be impacted as well.

How long will it take to fix these cables? 

The time is takes to repair a cable depends on on many factors including:

  • Permits - maintenance vessels require permits from governments when repairs are required within their waters. 
  • Loading - the repair vessel will need to visit a depot to load spare cable to accommodate the damaged cable.
  • Transit time - it takes time for a repair vessel to reach the area of suspected damage.
  • Fault location - locating the damaged portion of the cable is not always easy as the location of a cable may have shifted during the fault.
  • Fault repair - the number of fibers and type of damage play a role in repair length.
  • Weather window - before a repair begins, maintenance companies must assess if the weather will remain suitable for a long enough period to make the repair.

Repairs will almost certainly be swifter for these West Africa cables compared to those in the Red Sea, where permitting challenges and ongoing Houthi attacks portend lengthy delays.

While each repair situation is unique, we can look at the August 2023 repairs off of the West African coast near Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a rough guide. Based on TeleGeography’s Submarine Cable Faults Database, the number of days to repair those cables were as follows:

  • ACE - 37 days
  • SAT-3/WASC - 43 days
  • WACS - 30 days

TeleGeography’s Submarine Cable Faults Database

fault Dashboard

Note: The data shown is limited to what has been disclosed to the public.

What is the impact on consumers and enterprises?

Network operators routinely carry their traffic across multiple cables in case of outages like this one. A large number of cable outages reduces the amount of capacity available, which may degrade the quality of service. However, it’s important to take into account which applications and services are used. After all, not all user activity generates intercontinental traffic. Many services will continue to operate normally. 

At the time of writing, Amazon’s AWS cloud platform is not reporting any issues in South Africa, nor is Google Cloud. Microsoft has indicated some users of their Azure cloud platform may experience increased latency and packet loss. The company stated it is adding additional capacity and expects the problem to be resolved today, March 15.

Can satellites solve this problem?

Not really.

Submarine cables provide far more bandwidth than satellites can. Satellites are certainly useful in ensuring vital business and governmental services remain active if fiber connectivity is impaired or lost entirely. However, satellites are capacity-constrained.

If you put together all the capacity from Starlink, Amazon Kuiper, and other new satellite constellations, they would still account for less than one-tenth the capacity of a single, modern fiber-optic undersea cable.

This blog post was updated on March 15 at 2:30 pm EDT to reflect news from MainOne.


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Alan Mauldin

Alan Mauldin

Alan Mauldin is a Research Director at TeleGeography. He manages the company’s infrastructure research group, focusing primarily on submarine cables, terrestrial networks, international Internet infrastructure, and bandwidth demand modeling. He also advises clients with due diligence analysis, feasibility studies, and business plan development for projects around the world. Alan speaks frequently about the global network industry at a wide range of conferences, including PTC, Submarine Networks World, and SubOptic.

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