ONE OF SVALBARD’S TWO UNDERSEA FIBER CABLES SEVERED: Officials say communications capability still normal, emergency repair and contingency operations underway

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One of two subsea fiber cables providing communications capabilities to Svalbard from mainland Norway is severed, posing a potential threat to virtually cut off the archipelago from the outside world although capabilities are currently operating normally on the lone remaining cable, officials said Sunday.

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A sign at Hotellneset warns ships not to drop anchor because the landing station for Svalbard’s subsea communications cables are there. Photo by Telenor Svalbard.

The error was discovered at 4 a.m. Friday morning and that evening officials determined there is a fault in the cable between 130 and 230 kilometers from Longyearbyen, in an area where the cable goes steeply into the sea from about 300 meters to about 2,700 meters depth, according to a statement by Space Norway.

“There is nothing to indicate that there are problems with the other cable,” Svalbard Gov. Lars Fause said. “It works as normal. What we are doing now is in accordance with precautionary principles, and in line with our risk and vulnerability analysis. We are mapping possible consequences for the Svalbard community and assessing emergency preparedness measures.”

While the governor met with other local officials to assess scenarios if the other cable gives out, “the probability that it will happen is low,” Fause said.

Space Norway stated the agency and its partners are now working hard to locate the fault and find out how quickly it can be rectified. To repair the damage, a larger, sea-going cable-laying vessel must be mobilized.

“The Ministry of Justice and Emergency Preparedness is following the situation, and is being kept informed of the work with troubleshooting via the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which owns Space Norway,” Minister of Justice and Emergency Management Emilie Enger Mehl said. “The ministry also has regular contact with the Governor of Svalbard.”

The two cables of 1,375 and 1,339 kilometers famously provide Svalbard with some of the best communications capabilities despite the archipelago’s remoteness in large part to serve the Svalbard Satellite Station and other science-gathering operations. But they also have been cited by Norway’s government as one of the country’s top strategic vulnerabilities due to the possibility of it being severed accidentally or by sabotage.