The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano has damaged the Tonga Cable, submarine cable infrastructure crucial to connecting Tonga with the rest of the world

On the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, situated on a small island around 65km north of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, erupted, causing tsunamis across the Pacific. The crisis is still ongoing, with people missing, property damaged, and fears that further eruptions could be imminent. 
Dealing with the fallout of natural disasters such as this is never an easy task, but the effort could be further hindered due to the eruption damaging the archipelagos only submarine communications cable, the Tonga Cable. 
First activated in August 2013, the Tonga Cable spans around 827km, linking Nuku’alofa in Tonga to Suva, Fiji, where data is then able to travel both southwest to Australia and northeast to the US. 
With the cable damaged, communications to and from the region have been greatly reduced, with Tonga forced to be broadly reliant on satellite communications for external communication until repairs are complete. However, with so much ash being thrown into the sky, even some of these services have been disrupted.
Unfortunately, the damage to the cable could yet last some time. The nearest repair ship is reportedly located in Port Mosresby, Papua New Guinea, meaning it will need to travel 4,000km to reach its destination. According to sources, repairs could take up to two weeks, with eight or nine days needed simply for the ship to arrive at the damaged section.
Delays could also increase if the area is deemed too dangerous to approach due to further risks of volcanic activity.  
Previous disruptions in 2019, when the cable was damaged by a ship’s anchor, took over a week to repair.
In related news, operator group Digicel recently agreed to sell is Pacific subsidiary to Australia’s Telstra, who made the purchase in part to prevent crucial infrastructure in the region falling under Chinese influence. The $1.85 billion acquisition caused a stir when first announced back in October last year, with the Australian government reportedly agreeing to cover $1.33 billion of the total bill. 
The deal is expected to be completed by the first quarter of this year.

How does the submarine cable community prepare for natural disasters? Join the experts in discussion at this year’s live Submarine Networks EMEA event