Building work on the Australia Singapore Cable (“ASC”) has now passed the halfway point, reaching a number of critical milestones.
The Vocus-owned project, worth USD$170m, provides an important link between Australia and two of Asia’s strongest economies – Indonesia and Singapore.
“Once complete, the ASC will provide greater connectivity, bandwidth and reliability for business and consumers, building on Vocus’ 21,000km fibre network. We’re very pleased with the rate of progress being made on the project,” says Vocus Group CEO Geoff Horth.
Luke Mackinnon, Head of Vocus International says, “There is a lot of activity that goes on with the civil engineering works and the manufacturing before we send a ship to pick up the cable.
“The main cable laying starts in February next year and will continue throughout March. We will perform the final splice in April, enabling the commissioning to begin. That will take place in May and June, giving us a ready-for-service date in July 2018.”
Mackinnon says the manufacturing work on the ASC is nearing completion. The cable is being made in Calais, France by Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN). On the other side of the English Channel the company is finishing work on the repeaters at a factory in Greenwich in the UK. Once the cable and repeaters are ready, ASN will assemble them at the Calais site.
“Next month the components will be loaded on a ship and brought to Singapore. We expect it to arrive either late December or early January. At this point we will offload a third of the cable and repeaters at Singapore. The Ile de Re cable laying ship will pick them up in January and start laying in February”, he says.
The other two-thirds of the assembled cable will be transferred from ship-to-ship in January near Christmas Island. From there a second cable laying vessel, the Ile de Batz will lay the cable as it travels south from Christmas Island to Perth. The Ile de Re will start in Singapore and head south to Christmas Island. Mackinnon says the reason for using two ships is because the two legs will use different cable laying techniques. “From Singapore to Christmas Island the cable will be buried up to 4m below the seabed using a 40-tonne plough. This is far slower than the usual cable laying technique; the ship can only move at a few hundred metres per hour”.
While it is unusual to bury a submarine cable, it’s necessary in this instance because the ASC travels through the Java Sea which is shallow and highly trafficked. Mackinnon says an earlier cable running through this area is frequently broken, mainly due to fishing boats cutting the cable, which can take weeks to fix. Furthermore, there are issues getting permits for ship movements in the area and Indonesian maritime law requires contractors to use local crews.
The situation is quite different on the ASC leg between Christmas Island and Perth. The southern cable section passes through a deep ocean. Here the cable is simply laid on the sea bed. MacKinnon says, “The boat laying this section can move far quicker, covering kilometres in an hour”.