CAIRO, Egypt – A robotic submarine searched beneath the Mediterranean on Sunday for damaged communications cables, two days after Web and telephone access was knocked out for much of the Middle East.
Telecommunication providers from Cairo to Dubai continued Sunday to scramble to reroute voice and data traffic through potentially costly detours in Asia and North America after the lines running under the Mediterranean Sea were damaged Friday.
Internet access was largely knocked out for two days in at least six countries that were affected — Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Yemen.
It is the second time this year that trans-Mediterranean cables to Europe have been severed. The earlier cut, in late January, was apparently caused by a ship's anchor.
A ship operated by France Telecom's marine division arrived Sunday afternoon at what it believes is the accident site south of Sicily, spokesman Louis-Michel Aymard said.
The crew released a robotic submarine named "Hector" to search for two of the three damaged cables, which are owned by a consortium that includes the Paris-based telecommunications giant.
Once found, the cable ends will be pulled to the surface and repaired on deck — a process that could take several days.
"We have to fix the cable fiber by fiber, and it's a very huge cable," Aymard said. He said the company hopes to have the first line fixed by Thursday.
The third cable is operated by Reliance Globalcom. Officials at that company could not be reached for comment.
Regional communication providers' efforts to redirect voice and data traffic brought some areas back online over the weekend. Still, rolling outages continued to plague large parts of the region.
Emirati provider Etisalat said Internet service remained at about 85 percent capacity Sunday. The Abu Dhabi-based company was redirecting some of its data traffic through South Asia, spokesman Saeed al-Badi said.
Dubai-based Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co., better known as Du, said it was sending data and international voice traffic through Asia and the western United States.
"Due to the diversion of all traffic ... eastbound ... customers may be experiencing slower Internet access time than usual. This is the same for all Internet traffic from the region and is likely to continue until the cables are repaired," the company said.
The Egyptian government said about 80 percent of Internet services had been restored as of Sunday. Access was knocked out Friday and much of Saturday. Connection speeds were down in Yemen and in Jordan.
There were no major outages in Lebanon but some users experienced spotty access.
Dubai-based airline Emirates, one of the Middle East's most visible companies, said it had to cope with a 30 percent slowdown in online booking times and initially faced telephone problems.