Virgin Media Sues Fishing Trawler for Allegedly Damaging Subsea Cable

The wholesale division of broadband and Ethernet provider Virgin Media UK (VMO2) are suing the “owners and all persons claiming an interest” in a fishing trawler, the Irish-registered MV The Lida Suzanna, for €800k (£680k) after the ship allegedly damaged one of their subsea fibre optic cables between Ireland and England.

The Sirius South cable itself was originally deployed in 1998 by NTL, which later became part of Virgin Media after the merger with Telewest. Virgin also operates a second cable on a similar route called Sirius North, which affords them some redundancy should one of the two links end up being damaged.

NOTE: There have been 18 instances of damage, allegedly involving trawlers, since the Sirius cables were installed.

Sadly, cable breaks are not uncommon on subsea routes. Most such damage occurs due to accidents by deep sea fishing trawlers, as well as ships dragging their anchor over them or marine life deciding to take a nibble (smaller cables have been broken by hungry sharks in the past, but modern cables tend to be resistant). A whole industry exists to repair such cables, but it often takes a few days or weeks to fix related damage.

In this case, Virgin Media has claimed in the High Court that the vessel in question was allegedly conducting scallop fishing, which involves dredging the seabed. According to Breaking News, Virgin Media wants the vessel’s owners to pay damages and, failing that, they would like to see it sold to help pay off the claim.

A Virgin Media spokesperson said:

“We have brought this claim following significant damage caused by a fishing trawler to one of our undersea fibre optic cables, and are seeking to recover the costs associated with repairing the cable.

As a business with millions of customers who rely on fast and reliable connectivity, we hope that through taking this action, third parties will be better aware of the cost that can be involved and disruption it can cause when our cables are damaged.”

Cases like this can be complicated and tricky to pursue, which may help to explain why it’s taken so long for this one to reach the courts. In keeping with that, the vessel’s owners have denied that they were the cause of the damage and have asked for proof of this. The owners have also accused Virgin of being negligent by failing to take sufficient measures to protect the cable when it was installed, such as by burying it.

Finally, the owners claim that the location is an “area of fishing ground established centuries past” and that they were doing nothing more than the lawful exploitation of fishing rights. The owners say that Virgin Media has no entitlement to expect or demand that fishing be modified, or stopped, just because it laid a cable across the same area.

However, Virgin Media contends that shipping regulations require such vessels to carry publications that would have alerted the vessel’s owners to the location of subsea cables, and that there was also an alleged failure to ensure the skipper and/or crew were adequately aware of the location of such cables.

Virgin has previously filed a similar case again the MV Willie Joe trawler, which was settled in 2022.

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