Fishermen pull the plug on Vietnam's Web

Vietnamese government officials said Thursday that it will take at least a month to fix a critical undersea data cable damaged by fishermen scavenging for scrap copper.

The 560Mbit/sec. fiber-optic cable, which connects Vietnam with Hong Kong and Thailand, is one of two that provides the bulk of the country's connection with the Internet. Hanoi blamed the damage on fishermen, who have pulled lines from the seabed thinking that they were copper cables laid by the U.S. or the former Republic of South Vietnam before 1975.

According to the state-run Viet Nam News (VNS) news service and Web site, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called on authorities to stop such thefts. At least five cases have been documented since January, VNS added, including the recent seizure of two fishing boats carrying about 80 tons of cable, which the fishermen intended to sell as scrap.

Today, VNS quoted Tran Duc Lai, the deputy minister of posts and telematics, saying that it would take at least 30 days to repair the fiber-optic cable. "This is the first time that fishermen cut an undersea cable to sell as scrap," Lai told VNS. "It is a serious threat to national security, socio-economic development, and Vietnam's international prestige."

As much as 61 miles of cable must be replaced, said Lai.

Until the repair is completed, Vietnam's connection to the Internet depends on a 10Gbit/sec. cable that links the country to China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

"To prevent a repeat of the situation, we have to take urgent measures like increasing fishermen's awareness of the importance of underwater cables, increasing patrols in areas that have undersea cables, and stringent punishment for those violating the law," Lai said.

Last December, major earthquakes off the coast of Taiwan damaged several undersea cables, and disrupted telephone and Internet service to and from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries in the region. Most repairs were completed by the end of January.

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