The build of the Vocus Communications Australia Singapore Cable – a 4,600km submarine cable system linking Perth, Western Australia to Singapore, via Jakarta, Indonesia – has now started, with the cable being laid in two sections, using two ships.
‘We could have done the entire lay with one vessel, but we decided to use two,” said Vocus head of Network Product, Pricing and Carrier, Luke Mackinnon. “Not only does this speed up things up, but the conditions for each of the two stages are quite different.”
“This milestone means we’re one step closer to bringing customers an alternative to the fragile Sea-Me-We 3 system which is nearing end of life,” he said.
Alcatel Submarine Network’s cable ship Ile de Batz will lay the cable from near Christmas Island to Fremantle, near Perth, Western Australia. According to Vocus, the route covers a distance of some 3,000km and travels through deep water for about 90 per cent of the route. Sister ship, the ASN Ile de Ré, is laying 1,600km of cable in shallow water between Singapore and Christmas Island.
MacKinnon said while the Ile de Batz is covering almost twice the distance, it should complete its section in around one month. He expects the ship to reach Fremantle around April 20.
It will lay anything between 600m and 10km of cable an hour, operating around the clock. “Laying cable is faster in deep water,” MacKinnon said. “As on land, the geography of the seabed is not flat. There are underwater hills, outcrops and chasms to deal with as well as different types of seabed surface. It can be rock, silt or sand. At one point the cable traverses the side of an underwater mountain. When we reach one of the chasms we may need to change the type of cable we lay.”
“That means adding extra armour to protect it. All of this is pre-planned long before the ships sail. The cable is wound into the ship with the right kind of armour already in place,” he added.
In both cases the cable is about 2.5 per cent longer than the point-to-point distance, which allows for the vertical ups and downs.
Mackinnon classed the Singapore to Christmas Island section, being laid by Ile de Ré, as a more challenging section, noting it will take around 100 days to complete.
“The sea is shallower and it is also highly tidal. That could be a problem because cables can move in tidal waters. Over time they can rub against rocks and suffer from cuts. The other issue is there are many other cables and pipelines in the area. Each time the ship encounters one of these the cable has to be brought up from the bottom of the sea,” he said.