Relief as Southern Cross Cable confirms contact with Tonga Communications Center
Ray Kalonihea Tu’itakau/Facebook
Southern Cross had been unable to contact each other, even by satellite phone
Southern Cross Cable Network said it was able to confirm contact with a communications center in Tonga, which is working to restore internet and phone links to the island nation.
Sales manager Craige Sloots announced the “good news” shortly after noon, after reporting earlier that the cable company had been unable to get in touch with the network operations center, even by satellite phone.
Sloots said Southern Cross had received a brief update from Fintel, a partner in Fiji, which had managed to get in touch with Tonga, through mobile phone company Digicel.
Work was underway to “reset the submarine line’s terminal equipment to try to restore communications,” Slots said.
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Slots said earlier that Southern Cross was unable to reach the center of the network, even by satellite phone, to find out why communication links to and from the country were down.
Tonga’s main communication link with the outer works is provided by the 872 kilometer Tonga Cable System.
The fiber optic submarine cable, majority-owned by the Tongan government, runs from the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa to Suva in Fiji, where it connects to the Southern Cross Cable trans-Pacific network, which is part-owned by Spark.
Slots said on Sunday morning he could see Tonga’s service was down, which could have been due to a power outage, but first raised concerns that the undersea cable could have been cut off at sea by the subsequent volcanic eruption or tsunami.
Nuku’alofa-based Mary Fonua said the volcano’s eruption was “frightening”.
Slots said in the afternoon update “at this point, Fintel says cable is fine.”
Jamaica-based Digicel, which owns a share of Tonga Cable System, said in a statement on its Facebook page that it had been in contact with its team “on the ground across Tongatapu and the outer islands” and that they were all safe.
“There is damage along the riparian areas which extend 50 meters inland. Currently all communications are down across the kingdom and our team has been working through the night with local authorities to help restore communications to Tonga,” he said.
The Tonga cable was cut in 2019 in an incident attributed to a ship’s anchor catching the cable, dragging it and snapping it.
It took two weeks for a cable repair vessel operated by undersea cable company TE Subcom to reach the site and repair it.
The Tongan government then signed a contract with Singaporean company Kacific to upgrade its satellite communications links, according to Kacific.
Such links can provide a limited backup for international telephone and internet services and Kacific said at the time that they would also be used to connect outer islands to Nuku’alofa.
Kacific has been contacted for information on the status of its ground station infrastructure in Tonga.
Satellite phones are sometimes used by emergency services because they can connect directly to satellites in space without the need for ground infrastructure.
Further information on the situation in Tonga can come from aerial or satellite imagery.
California satellite company Planet Labs, which took a picture of the volcano just two hours before it erupted, said it was working to collect images of areas affected by the tsunami it generated.
Planet operates a fleet of approximately 200 satellites that circle the globe every 24 hours.
Spokeswoman Anne Pellegrino said she expected to take new photos later in the day New Zealand time of the volcano after it erupted.
Spark said it would waive all charges for calls to Tonga from Spark landlines and mobiles for one week, until next Sunday.