CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Internet outages disrupted business and personal usage across a wide swathe of the Middle East on Wednesday after two undersea cables in the Mediterranean were damaged, government officials and Internet service providers said.
In Cairo, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said the cut of the international communications cables Flag and Seamewe 4 had led to a partial disruption of Internet services and other telecommunications across much of Egypt.
Emergency teams were quickly trying to find alternative routes, including satellite connections, to end the disruptions, Minister Tariq Kamel said.
A telecommunications expert at the Egyptian communications ministry, Rafaat Hindy, cautioned that "solving this could take days."
TeleGeography, a U.S. research group that tracks submarine cables around the world, said the severed lines account for 75 percent of the capacity connecting Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to Europe.
It would take "a few days up to one week before submarine cable operators deploy ships to bring the cables up and fix the fault," said Eric Schoonover, senior research analyst at TeleGeography.
It was not clear what caused the damage to the cable.
Schoonover said there has been speculation by others that an illegally or improperly anchored ship caused the problem. Cables get damaged all the time but Schoonover believes this was the first time two undersea cables near each other were cut at the same time.
Phone lines in Egypt still work, indicating "network operators in the area are rerouting traffic through emergency channels," Schoonover said. He said alternate paths include going "around India and back through Asia to the U.S."
Internet service also was disrupted in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which markets itself as a top Mideast business and luxury tourist hub. Both Internet service providers said international telephone service was also affected.
One of the ISPs, DU, was completely down in the morning; browsing remained very slow even after DU restored Internet service by the afternoon.
An official who works in the customer care department of DU, who identified himself only as Hamed because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the cable cut took place between Alexandria, Egypt, and Palermo, Italy.
Although he was not in a position to describe the technical fault, Hamed said engineers contracted by DU were working to solve the problem. By early afternoon, the service was flooded with complaints and had found alternative routes, but Hamed said "there is slowness while browsing on the Internet."
There was no total outage in Kuwait, but service was interrupted Tuesday and Wednesday. The Gulfnet International Company apologized in an e-mail Wednesday to its customers for the "degraded performance in Internet browsing."
In Saudi Arabia, some users said Internet was functioning fine but others said it was slow or totally down.
Users in Bahrain and Qatar also complained of slow Internet.