Protecting subsea cables

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The safe - and constant - transmission of data is of the utmost importance in today's world. From board rooms to living rooms, fast, reliable and secure communications have a distinct effect on both our business and social lives.

The vast majority of our data and voice communication occurs via subsea fibre optic cables, and understanding how those cables are protected, and how they can be damaged, is critical for cable owners and installers alike.

Subsea cables are the safest, fastest and most reliable form of communication in the world. They rest on the ocean floor from the deepest to the shallowest locations - typically separated as far as possible but sometimes running uncomfortably close together and even criss-crossing.

In the cable routing and installation process, cable protection measures are an absolute priority, and cable installation experts will address any potential areas of risk during the earliest stages of cable planning.

All that said, cables do break. More often than not, cables are damaged, rather than broken, and most often by what the industry refers to as 'external aggression' - typically a ships' anchor or a fishing trawler that snags the cable and damages it. In this situation, cables may still be transmitting data traffic, but will experience a degradation in signal, requiring a repair to return the cable to full functionality.

Cable damage caused by external aggression will occur most often near the shore-end, in waters less than 150 metres deep. For that reason, cables need to be designed and built with additional protection closer to the shore.

The International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) is an industry body that provides information for the common interest of all seabed users. The organisation promotes awareness of the strategic, economic and social benefits of submarine cables, especially the fishing industry to support awareness of cable locations and to help minimise cable damage.

In addition to the support provided by ICPC, companies that install and repair subsea cables, such as Global Marine Systems, will effect a comprehensive analysis of seabed conditions, fishing activity, existing cables in the vicinity, and other factors that can impact the long-term life of a cable. Ideal cable routing and potential protection techniques (cable armouring and cable burial, for example) are identified early in the process to even better reduce the risk of cable damage.

Global Marine Systems is a leading provider of engineering and underwater services, providing subsea cable installation, maintenance and burial services around the world. With a fleet of vessels and specialised subsea equipment, we carry a 160-year legacy in deep and shallow water cable operations.

For more information on subsea cable installation, maintenance and burial requirements, contact Global Marine Systems today at


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