Accident or Russian sabotage? First images of damaged fiber optic cable in Arctic raise (many) doubts – Executive Digest

In 2022, several submarine cables in the Svalbard archipelago in Norway were damaged, cutting off internet connectivity between the peninsula and Norwegian territory. Now, two years later, the police have released the first pictures of these damaged cables. Although there is no concrete evidence, theories about possible sabotage have gained strength again.

Although the Internet network and optical fiber are intangible, the thousands of data that enable their operation are often carried by submarine cables. There have been cases of damaged cables in conflict zones, such as the incident in the Red Sea a few months ago, which affected 25% of global internet traffic.

By publishing the images, Norwegian media NRK consulted experts in submarine cables to get an assessment and analysis of the damage.

These experts concluded that the damage was caused by apparent ‘crushing’ of the cables. “The images can be said to show damage caused by scraping or pinching by an object that has passed over or across the cable. It is usually a tow port or towed on the seabed,” explained one of the experts, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons.

In 2022 or now, with the publication of the first images of the case, it was not possible to establish with certainty the reasons for the deterioration of these cables, which caused them to stop working. Initially, Norwegian police suspected human activity, but the investigation was dropped due to lack of evidence.

In this area, there are times when fishing boats use the trawling technique and if any of these cables are not buried sufficiently, these nets have the potential to damage them. However, what caught NRK’s ​​attention and kept theories of possible Russian sabotage alive was the fact that a Russian tugboat had passed Cape Svalbard more than 140 times, including a dozen times before it was damaged in January 2022.

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Although police interviewed the ship’s crew, they denied any involvement, and police were unable to find any evidence or details indicating sabotage intent on the part of Russia.

Since there is no concrete evidence, everything points to this case being closed unresolved, and it is important to consider that these types of cables are often damaged in different parts of the world. However, many parties involved are not satisfied with the results of these investigations and suspect a deliberate intent to destroy.

Although remote in the Arctic, the cable is an important part of Norway’s space infrastructure, as well as a basis for the country’s international obligations, the Auditor General’s Office said. This feature has led some experts to suggest a possible connection to Russian hybrid warfare at sea.

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