According to news of the Australian Federal Police(AFP), the AFP has charged the 59-year-old Master of container ship Maersk Surabaya, which allegedly damaged the Australia Singapore Cable (ASC) off the West Australian coast – in what is believed to be the first prosecution by the AFP for the alleged offence.

Vessel MAERSK SURABAYA
Vessel MAERSK SURABAYA, Image Credit: FleetMon

 

The ASC cable was cut in the Perth Submarine Cable Protection Zone, approximately 10 kilometres offshore from City Beach on 1 August 2021. 

The ASC cable system is operated by Vocus, stretching 4,600 kilometres between Perth and Singapore, with connections to Christmas Island and Indonesia.

Vocus’ Operations Command Centre, field technicians, and submarine cable maintenance partners were immediately deployed to the Perth cable landing station, where optical testing confirmed a break to the cable approximately 10 kilometres off Perth’s coast, at a water depth of 27 metres.

 

the Perth Submarine Cable Protection Zone
The Perth Submarine Cable Protection Zone

 

SubCom’s repair vessel, the CS Reliance, located nearby off the coast of Perth, was rapidly re-deployed to commence repairs to the ASC. After obtaining all the required permits and approvals, the CS Reliance began repairs on Thursday 5 August — four days after the break occurred. By Monday 9 August, four days after commencing repairs, the south side of the break had been spliced, while a section of new cable was laid toward the north end of the break. Bad weather in the region slowed repairs as the CS Reliance temporarily anchored for the safety of the crew, with repairs recommencing on Wednesday 11 August. The final splice reconnecting the north and south ends of the cut section occurred on board the CS Reliance in the early hours of the morning on Friday 13 August. 

And the ASC cable system was restored to normal services as of 13:36 AEST on 13 August. It took totally 13 days to repair the ASC cable cut.

Allegations that a passing vessel had damaged the cable – causing approximately $1.5 million damage - were reported to the AFP on 3 August (2021).

An investigation by AFP officers in WA and Victoria has resulted in the arrest of the captain of the container ship Maersk Surabaya, a 59-year old Ukrainian national.

Maersk Surabaya was anchored approximately 500m from the protection zone, and allegedly dragged its anchor through the area in high winds, snagging and damaging the ASC cable at a water depth of 27 meters.

The 59-year-old man was charged on 11 August 2021 after AFP investigators searched the vessel when it docked in Melbourne and seized ship logs.  

The man appeared by video-link in Melbourne Magistrates Court on 11 August for:

  • Engaging in negligent conduct as the Master of a maritime vessel, which resulted in damage to the Australian Singapore Cable, contrary to section 37 of schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth).

The offence carries a potential maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a $40,000 fine.

The man was granted bail with strict conditions and is currently in COVID hotel quarantine.

AFP Detective Superintendent Graeme Marshall said damage to a subsea cable can have serious financial consequences for both the cable operator and for customers who experience reduced connectivity and data access.

“The protection zone is clearly marked on maritime charts and all vessel Masters should ensure vessels operate in a manner which does not interfere with critical communications infrastructure,” AFP Detective Superintendent Marshall said.

According to FleetMon, vessel MAERSK SURABAYA is a container ship, registered in Liberia, with 332 meters in length and 43 meters in width.

The captain is a 59-year old Ukrainian.