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UAE impounds two ships in cable damage case

By Amira Agarib (Our staff reporter) / 11 April 2008

DUBAI - The UAE Coast Guards recently impounded two ships allegedly involved in damaging undersea communication cables in February that resulted in network outages across the Middle East and Asia.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Abdul Jaleel Mahdi, Deputy Director of Criminal Investigation Department of Dubai Police, said one of the impounded ships, belonging to a Korean shipping company, was released after payment of huge compensation to the Flag company whose cables were reportedly damaged.

However, the second ship, which belongs to an Iraqi company, is still in the custody of Dubai Police and the Coast Guards, a police source said, adding that two sailors of the Iraqi ship who were on board the vessel were arrested and would be referred to the Dubai Public Prosecution next week.

In February this year, Internet services across India and parts of the UAE were disrupted for two weeks because of damage to the undersea fibre optic cables off the northern coast of Egypt.

Four undersea communications network cables were damaged in January this year. The first two damaged cables affected Internet services in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait  and Bahrain. The third lay between the UAE and Oman, while the fourth one linked Qatar and the UAE.

The action was taken after the telecom operator, M. Ambare Company, disclosed following the satellite images that the ship movements around the area where the undersea cable damage took place between the United Arab Emirates and Oman was due to anchoring of the ships.

The Korean ship 'MT Ann' and Iraqi ship 'MV Hounslow' were impounded on February 19 when they entered Dubai territorial waters. The Korean ship had hit the Internet cables located at a distance of around 27 miles from Dubai, while the Iraqi vessel damaged the cables 25 miles from Dubai shores.

During police interrogation, the official of the Korean ship admitted that the vessel was passing through the area and agreed to pay $60,000 as damages to the FLAG company.

According to a police report, during the storm, the Iraqi ship had placed the ship anchor under water. After the storm subsided, the ship's crew tried to remove the anchor which got stuck in the Internet cables. Since they failed to remove it, they left behind the anchor that damaged the Internet cables.

The sailors on board the vessel said they had no information about the damage caused by the ship anchor.

Dubai Police will refer the Indian chief officer, Shifam Kablash, and a Syrian chief engineer, Osman Abdul Gadir, to Dubai Public Prosecution by next week 

The captain of the ship, who is an Iraqi, was not on board the vessel when it was impounded. The Iraqi ship is also expected to pay $350,000 as compensation to the company whose cables were damaged. On March 25, Dubai Public Prosecution asked the company to furnish a bank guarantee of the amount in order to secure the release of the ship.

An Etisalat official told Khaleej Times that the Internet cables were owned not by Etisalat but by FLAG. Hence, the compensation would have been paid to FLAG by the Korean shipping company.

A press statement issued by Etisalat quoted Omar Bin Kalban, CEO & Managing Director of E-marine PJSC, as saying: "This was an extremely difficult period for the region's telecommunications industry. The cuts were extremely serious as many of the Gulf countries rely on submarine cables to provide access to international markets and Internet content. Accordingly, telephone and Internet services were seriously degraded. I would like to thank all the staff that have been involved in this process and am very proud of their extensive efforts and success."

Meanwhile, Mohammad Al Qamzi, CEO of Etisalat said: "Etisalat was unaffected by the recent cable issue in the Gulf, but many of our peers in the region had their connectivity seriously degraded. I congratulate the crews of the Cable Ships Etisalat and Niwa and recognise that their work was critical to protecting the rapidly expanding economies in the region. The success of their missions highlights Etisalat's commitment and ability to support the industry even in the most trying of circumstances."
 
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