SUBMARINE TELECOMS INDUSTRY REPORT – SECTION 5.1: CURRENT CABLE SHIPS

5.1.1 Fleet Distribution

SubCom owns the most ships at seven, followed closely by ASN, Global Marine and Orange with six each. Combined, these four companies account for half of the entire fleet. This has allowed each of them to implement projects around the globe, and to handle nearly every challenge that arises.

Figure 49 - Cableship Fleet Distribution by Company

Figure 49 – Cableship Fleet Distribution by Company

E-marine owns the next most at four ships with NTTW WEM and S.B.S.S. owning three each. ASEAN, Kokusai Cable Ship and KT Submarine own two cable ships while the remaining 11 cable ships in the fleet are all owned by separate companies. ASN, SubCom, GMSL and Orange all have a diverse global presence, while the rest of the above companies cater to a regional focus. (Figure 49)

Figure 50 - Cableship Fleet Distribution by Region

Figure 50 – Cableship Fleet Distribution by Region

As the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are the busiest and highest traffic maritime regions in the world, most of the global cableship fleet is stationed in these two regions. (Figure 50) Many of the world’s most important telecommunications routes cross these two oceans, requiring multiple maintenance vessels to be on hand and installation vessels available for new routes. The Indian Ocean and Mediterranean regions are slightly-less busy and have a smaller coverage footprint. Therefore, fewer ships are necessary to handle the workload required by these regions, resulting in a significantly smaller portion of the fleet stationed there.

Figure 51 - Dedicated Cable Ship Purpose

Figure 51 – Dedicated Cableship Purpose

The overall distribution of cableships dedicated to maintenance agreements versus those available for installation jobs is almost even. Of the global fleet, 21 are dedicated to club and private maintenance zones, 26 are dedicated towards installation work. The remaining 4 are not dedicated to a sole purpose. (Figure 51)

Cableships are stationed around the world in strategic locations reflecting established fault profiles to be able to cover all parts of the world easily.

5.1.2 Growth and Age of Cable Ship Fleet

Figure 52 - Cableships Added by Year, 1999-2019

Figure 52 – Cableships Added by Year, 1999-2019

While an average of one cableship has been added per year since 1999, there has been a clear downward trend in new ships being commissioned. The large spike in additional cableships from 2001-2003 was in anticipation of explosive market growth that failed to materialize. Because of a far less busy industry, no cableships were added to the global fleet from 2004-2010. (Figure 52)

Figure 53 - Age Distribution of Cableship Fleet

Figure 53 – Age Distribution of Cableship Fleet

Most of the cableship fleet is between 15 and 25 years old, with the average age being 23. All but six cable ships are 16 years or older, and one is as old as 47. This indicates that there is room for modernization and calls into question the ability of an aging fleet being able to handle all planned installation activity. As the older ships begin to phase out – there are 12 over 30 years old – there are not enough planned cable ships to replace them which will impact installation and maintenance availability. (Figure 53)

5.1.3 New Cable Ships

In September of 2017, KDDI Corporation announced plans to construct a new submarine cable-laying ship. It is scheduled for launch in fiscal year 2019.

By utilizing the expertise accumulated through experience in laying and repairing communications cables, the new submarine cable-laying ship will be Japan’s first ship capable of supporting electric power cable installation, in addition to the cables used in communications, observation and resource exploration.

In addition, by improving the sailing distance and speed over those of previous KDDI ships, the marine area covered by the ship will expand beyond the current Asia-Pacific region to span the entire globe. Furthermore, the use of retractable azimuth thrusters will improve the weather resistance in adverse conditions, as well as the performance of stationary maintenance operations.

The KDDI Cable Infinity was successfully delivered to Kokusai Cable Ship – a subsidiary of KDDI Corporation – in June of 2019. Details for this ship are below:

Cableship Specifications
Gross Tonnage 9,500 tons
Length 113 meters
Breadth 21.5 meters
Ship Complement 80 persons
Service Speed 14.5 knots
Pulling Power 80 tons

As of this report, no new submarine fiber cable ships are currently planned. This is a potential cause for concern as ships being aged out are not being adequately replaced.