Vietnam unplugged – country faces internet shutdown after cables stolen

Vietnam faces near total disconnection from the Internet because thieves are stealing the country's international telecoms cables, says a telecoms executive.

After a gang carted off fiber optic lines earlier this month, the country now relies on a single link to Hong Kong for 90 percent of its international internet and telephone traffic, warned Nguyen Huu Khanh.

stolen_internet_cables_vietnam  - Source: Tuoi Tre Nguyen is the director of the government-controlled Vietnam Telecom International (VTI) company, which operates the international links.

Almost 100 kilometers of cable have been stolen, Nguyen told local publication Tuoi Tre. A summary of Tuoi Tre's coverage was reported by the state-owned VietNamNet Online Newspaper. Nguyen estimated losses at more than $4 million. Other reports say the cables will take three months to fix.

Police have recovered parts of the stolen cable, but it is severely damaged because the thieves sliced it into sections for easier handling (see photo).

Fishing boats used to hook cables

The thieves used fishing boats to pull up cables which connect Vietnam to Thailand, where they merge with global telecoms networks. The undersea lines usually lie unprotected on top of the seabed in offshore areas, and can easily be dragged to the surface if they can be located.

undersea_cable_signsubmarine_cable_marker_on_beach In many regions, large signposts (see photos) indicate where an international undersea cable comes ashore. Although these are intended to prevent accidental damage to the cable, they also act as a convenient guide for thieves. The stolen cables can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars as scrap, according to Vietnamese press reports.

One report claims that workers legally salvaging old unused cables to recycle the copper in them may also have dredged up new cables by mistake in some cases.

Several cable gangs at work, police say

The Thailand cable is not the first to go missing. Since the beginning of the year, 500 tons of fiber optic cable may have been stolen in five separate incidents, according to police sources cited by Tuoi Tre.

In one such incident, the crew of a Singaporean cable repair ship sent to investigate a connection problem arrived to find a Vietnamese boat making off with a large section of the cable.

Vietnam's sole remaining high-capacity international cable is part of a network that was severely damaged by an earthquake last year, taking months to repair. Even if the thieves do not turn their attention to that cable, a further quake will effectively cut most Vietnamese off from the global internet, Nguyen warned.

While Vietnam's international internet links have long suffered from a lack of bandwidth, local bloggers have been complaining of particularly poor connections in recent weeks, possibly as a result of the missing cables.

Further reading and sources:
Thanh Nien News
VietNamNet Bridge
Thanh Nien News
Thanh Nien News

Update June 1: Government officials have called for prison sentences or even the death penalty for cable thieves, according to a report carried by VietNamNet.

Can't they leave Vietnam alone?

I went to Vietnam a few years back. It's a beautiful country. Shame about all the agent orange spread everywhere.

Can't they leave Vietnam alone?

Who are THEY that you speak of? It is the Vietnamese that are continuing to destroy their own country now, as they did in the 50's, 60's, 70's and so on. What does agent orange have to do with the story? You probably have not been there and like posting nonsense. Thanks for wasting everyones time.


It's actually multinational corporations that are destroying the country presently, but hey, you don't live here so how would you be expected to know?

As for the issue at hand, yup, I can confirm that currently ADSL here sucks, this is an interesting theory/excuse/explanation as to why that might be. First I've seen subsequent to the storm damage.