The eruption of an undersea volcano not only interrupted the submarine cable but tore it into several pieces. The Tonga Cable System, which connects Tonga with Fiji, has been damaged more severely than previously thought. James Panuve, managing director of Tonga Cable Limited, told Voice of America (VOA) that a Subcom repair ship found the severed ends of the 840-kilometer submarine cable damaged in an undersea volcano eruption on January 15. But instead of a clean break, the section of cable was torn into numerous pieces, Panuve explained.
"It is evident that the eruption, the shock waves, and the tsunami have caused great devastation underwater," Panuve said. Since then, the island state in the South Pacific with around 100,000 inhabitants, which belongs to Polynesia, has been dependent on satellite connections, which are not sufficient for the supply.
Eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano created large tsunami waves and blanketed Tonga in toxic ash, killing three people. According to Panuve, the cable repair ship Reliance had to deal with bad weather last week and is now trying to use submersible robots to recover cable sections in waters up to 2,500 meters deep.
One section was shifted by 5 kilometers due to the eruption and another was buried under 30 centimeters of silt. A piece of cable more than 55 kilometers long is still being searched for on the seabed in the hope that it can still be used. However, Panuve remained optimistic that Tonga Cable would soon be able to repair the connection.
Back in 2019, a ship's anchor ripped through the Tonga Cable System, causing an internet outage for weeks.
The submarine cable connects to other cables from Fiji and has been operational since 2013. It lands at Sopu near Nukuʻalofa in Tonga and at Suva in Fiji, where it connects to the Southern Cross Cable Network.
Tonga Domestic Cable Extension (TDCE) the Government of Tonga has named the inland extension from Tonga Island to Vava'u (348 km) and Ha'apai (58 km). It was operational in January 2018.