Red Sea cable repairs delayed as Yemeni govt probes AAE-1 consortium


The government will not grant repair ships access to the cables until the investigation is concluded

This week, reports suggest that the Yemeni government has contacted members of the AAE-1 (Asia-Africa-Europe 1) submarine cable consortium, informing them that they are being probed with regard to ties to the nation’s Houthi rebels.

The consortium, which includes the likes of Etisalat, Omantel, Ooredoo, Reliance Jio Infocom, and Telecom Egypt, also notably includes TeleYemen, Yemen’s incumbent operator which is part-controlled by Houthi rebels. It is this relationship with TeleYemen that is under investigation, with the government saying that the consortium members may be indirectly funding terrorism.

Since 2014, the Houthi rebels have taken controlled parts of Yemen, including the capital Sana’a. TeleYemen was effectively carved in two by the conflict, with the part of the business involved in the AAE-1 consortium left operating out of Houthi-controlled territory.

Crucially, while this investigation is ongoing, the official Yemeni government will not give permission for cable ships to repair AAE-1, which was damaged along with two other cables (EIG and SEACOM/TGN-Eurasia) back in February.

The AAE-1 cable itself spans over 25,00km from Hong Kong to France, carrying a large portion of Europe–Asia data traffic through the Red Sea on its way into the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

The Red Sea itself has become a hotbed of military activity this year, after hostilities between Israel and Palestine saw the Muslim Houthis begin attacking Western shipping lines in the region. One of these attacks caused a vessels anchor to be dragged across the trio of subsea cables, severing them and causing major telecommunications disruption across the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.

Damage to subsea cables is relatively common – indeed, there was a similar high-profile cable break off the West Coast of Africa at around the same time as the AAE-1 was damaged. But despite their frequency, damage to these cables often takes a long time to repair, largely due to the limited number of repair ships available.

Cable ships not only need to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach the damaged cable, but they also require government permissions to enter sovereign waters, which is here being denied by the Aden-based Yemeni government.

In notifying the affected consortium members, the Yemeni attorney general Judge Qaher Mustafa Ali asked them to provide details on corporate transactions and ownership structure. Failure to do so, the judge said, could result in the respective companies’ management committee facing criminal prosecution.

Consortium members have yet to comment publicly on the investigation.

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