Tonga takes to radio, satellite, motorboat comms to restore communications after massive volcano blast and tsunami

Next steps for island nation


Limited communication is being restored in Tonga through satellite, high-frequency radio and motorboat after a violent underwater volcano severed a fiber-optic cable connecting the remote island to the world.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai underwater eruption – equivalent to a 10 megaton blast, it's estimated – on Saturday damaged two cables that were the backbones of international and domestic communications in Tonga.

The internet still remains cut off though communications is being restored through other means, the government of Tonga said in its first official statement, posted on Twitter by the Tonga Embassy in Tokyo.

Tonga has deployed patrol boats as the first step in restoring communication across Tonga's islands.

As of Tuesday, limited communication had been established between the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital Nuku'alofa is located, and the nearby Vava'u and Ha'apai island chains through satellite phone and HF radio.

"The two communication providers are working on satellite options to restore some services including the Internet," the government said in its statement.

The first images of the true extent of damage caused by the volcano started emerging on Monday through images taken by surveillance planes. The Tongan government website was down as of Tuesday morning, and attempts to access the site timed out.

An investigation by one of the communications providers, Digicel, revealed that two separate undersea cables were broken. One was on the domestic cable route linking the islands in Tonga together, and the other, and perhaps more critical, was on an undersea fiber optic cable that linked Tonga to the rest of the world.

Tonga is on the 30,500km Southern Cross Cable Network fiber optic cable that links US West Coast, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Sydney. The breakage is on the line linking Tonga on the network to Fiji.

The interconnected cable is broken up into two routes, and the redundancy ensures countries on the underwater fiber optic line remain connected. Fiji is still online, but Tonga has been cut off.

A cable repair ship called the CS Reliance will attempt repairs when safe, and until then Digicel services in Tonga won't be fully restored, the company said on Tuesday. Digicel, which is based in Jamaica, runs services across the Pacific through a subsidiary.

The website of the other main communications provider, the government-run Tonga Communications, was down.

As of Sunday, the ship was docked close to 4,000km away in Port Moresby, and repairs could take two weeks or more, the New Zealand Herald reported. ®

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