‘Human activity’ was behind last month’s Svalbard cable disruption

Police said an investigation found evidence of human disruption, but didn't elaborate further.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - February 16, 2022
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A disrupted Svalbard communications cable serves local internet and communications including the satellite part of SvalSat located on a mountain near Longyearbyen. (Atle Staalesen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Norwegian police said discoveries indicate that human involvement was behind the Svalbard cable disruption that took place last month.

“Preliminary investigations strengthen our hypothesis about human impact leading to the loss of communication in one of the cables,” police lawyer Ronny Jørgensen told newspaper Bergens Tidende.

Jørgensen did not elaborate on the findings, but made clear that natural causes were unlikely to be behind the damage.

Nobody has so far been charged or has status as suspect in the case, NRK reports.

The police statements come after the Svalbard local government vessel Polarsyssel was in the area of the cable breach with an unmanned underwater vehicle.

The cable is operated by Space Norway, and also serves the SvalSat park of more than 100 satellite antennas. SvalSat is today the world’s largest commercial ground station with worldwide customers. Its location at 78 degrees North, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, gives the station a unique position to provide all-orbit support to operators of polar-orbiting satellites.

According to Space Norway, the cable disruption was located somewhere between 130 to 230 kilometers from Longyearbyen in an area where the ocean depths drop steeply to about 2,700 meters.

“The failure did not in any way change the ability to communicate effectively with Svalbard in the same manner as before, but it represented a temporary lack of redundancy,” Head of Infrastructure at Space Norway Dag H. Stølan says.

The analysis of the failure indicated a shunt failure in the cable causing loss of power to some of the signal repeaters, according to Space Norway. The redundancy was restored on January 18, and the cable is expected to be fully repaired this month.

The Svalbard cable is not the only piece of underwater Norwegian infrastructure that over the past months have been harmed.

In November 2021, the Norwegian Marine Research Institute informed that its Lofoten–Vesterålen Ocean Observatory was out of service after about 4 kilometers of a 60 kilometers long underwater cable somehow had disappeared.

“Something or someone has pulled out the cable in the outer circuit,” said project manager Geir Pedersen.

The cable was first of all applied for marine monitoring, but it also collected intelligence information for the Norwegian Armed Forces.

The Institute of Marine Research reported the incident to the police.

In late November, a research team equipped with a UUV managed to locate parts of the missing cable.

“We have found about 3 kilometers of the 4.2-kilometer-long cable. It is quite far out of position, up to 11 kilometers. Most likely a vessel has pulled the cable out of position”, said Pedersen.