By ICPC

The International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) has just completed its 46th Plenary meeting, which was held in Miami, USA from 21-23 May 2013.

A record 124 delegates representing 82 companies from 35 countries attended this meeting, which was regarded as demonstrating the success of the ICPC’s efforts to engage with stakeholders and represent many significant issues relating to submarine telecommunications cables (which underpin global communications including the Internet) and submarine power cables (which are an increasingly critical component of the major power grids).

The Plenary theme, “New routes, new technologies, new players and evolving challenges”, was designed to capture the remarkable advances of the submarine cable industry and its future challenges in the face of an increasing human presence offshore. As a result, the Plenary attracted 31 high quality submissions from, amongst others, the following distinguished invited presenters:

  • Galo Carrera – Vice Chair of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), who gave a paper on the work of CLCS.
  • Honorary Associate Professor John Sherwood (Deakin University, Australia) who gave a paper on the benign ecological effects of the Basslink power cable.

In addition to the two papers mentioned above, a wide range of other topics related to submarine cables were covered.

Verizon’s analytical study of global cable faults was especially timely in the light of the World’s reliance on fibre-optic submarine cables for communications, data transfer and the Internet. Delays in repairs can be particularly disruptive and costly for the affected nations and the study revealed marked differences in repair times, much of which related to delays caused by some coastal States requiring permits to be issued before a repair commences. Importantly, the study complemented the ICPC’s 2012 Fault Report covering 5 calendar years from 2008 to 2012, becoming truly global with data sourced from all of the World’s cable maintenance zones plus a private marine maintenance agreement covering the South Pacific.

The Plenary also examined the status of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) and protection of submarine cables. In particular the alarming actions of a few coastal States to encroach on the express UNCLOS freedoms to lay, maintain, and repair submarine cables were discussed. Choke points on some submarine cable routes are exacerbated by deficiencies in national legislation, enforcement, protectionist domestic laws such as Cabotage, customs import fees, taxes, and extraordinary permit delays.

Environmental matters relating to cables featured with new research into the formation of submarine landslides that are a hazard to cable systems especially in earthquake prone areas. Potential impacts of climate change also featured, especially in relation to the substantial loss of Arctic ice, which is opening up potential cable routes across the top of the World. Threats posed by ice are of particular interest and the audience was amazed by new results from Alaska, which showed that the growth of ice crystals around a submarine cable can actually cause it to float!

A substantial independent study of the Basslink power and telecommunications cable (connecting the Australian States of Victoria and Tasmania) showed that this high voltage system had a negligible impact on marine life. The electro-magnetic field, which had been hypothesised to affect marine animals, was found to be very localised and similar in strength to that found naturally associated with local rocks and sediments.

Other key outcomes of the 2013 Plenary were:

  • The representation of many new members from different parts of the industry, reflecting the ICPC’s drive to open up membership to the entire Submarine Cable Industry.
  • Inclusion of new Government members, reflecting the growing importance of Government-Private partnerships to help resolve the new challenges for the critical infrastructure network of submarine cables.
  • Reminder of the need for education around the fact that almost all transoceanic communications are now carried on submarine cables.
  • The expected growth of offshore renewable energies and the need to share an increasingly crowded seabed.

The next ICPC Plenary meeting will be held in Dubai in 2014. This is confidently expected to build upon the success of the 2013 event and showcase the truly global nature of ICPC activities.

About the ICPC:

The ICPC was formed in 1958 and its primary goal is to promote the safeguarding of submarine cables against man-made and natural hazards. It also provides a forum for the exchange of technical, legal and environmental information about submarine cables.

With members in over 60 countries responsible for over 97% of international submarine telecommunications cables and a significant proportion of submarine power cables, the ICPC is the World’s premier submarine cable industry association.

More information about the ICPC is available at www.iscpc.org