Show cause notice keeps undersea cable ship off India coast

Thomas K Thomas New Delhi | Updated on January 01, 2013

Telcos complain of delays in cable repairs even as TRAI proposals await Govt nod

Undersea cables connecting India to the rest of the world are facing delays in repair and maintenance due to procedural hassles.

The latest example is that of Vessel CS Asean Explorer, an undersea repair cable ship, which has been forced to move out of Indian waters due to a show cause notice by customs authorities.

The vessel, CS Asean Explorer, is an emergency repair vessel and has been carrying out repairs on submarine cables to ensure continued telecom operations. Submarine cables carry international communications such as voice, internet and other data traffic to various countries. The submarine cables landings that this vessel provides is emergency repair services of the primary link to the countries they connect, and if the repairs to these cables are not carried out urgently, it can cripple India’s telecommunications capability to the rest of the world.

The vessel has been operating as a submarine cable maintenance vessel from the port of Cochin since 2003; but for occasional sorties, the vessel was stationed at the port of Cochin during the entire period since 2003. The Department of Telecommunications permitted the vessel to undertake operations at Mumbai, Chennai and Cochin offshore.

The vessel has also entered into agreements with the Cochin Port Trust under which the vessel would be entitled to a concession in berthing charges, subject to the condition that the vessel will be berthed at Cochin port for a minimum period of 265 days a year.

But in February 2012, the Superintendent of Customs, Customs House, Cochin, directed that the spares, components and consumables on board the vessel, are liable for confiscation and thereby restrained the vessel. Later in July, the Office of the Commissioner of Customs (Preventive) Rummage & Intelligence Division, Willingdon Island, Cochin, issued a show cause notice as to why the vessel should not be confiscated.

This forced the repair ship to move out of Indian waters. This means that if there’s any repair needed, it would take the vessel at least 7 days.

One-stop window clearance

This comes even as a proposal by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to create a one-stop window clearance is awaiting Government nod for over 2 years. Telecom companies say there are several issues that the telecom ministry has moved on this proposal which could slash submarine cable repair time to three to five days. At present, repairing of an undersea cable takes at least three to five weeks.

DoT has suggested speeding up of approvals from various ministries and agencies, which would also help in arresting revenue losses to operators.

“A submarine communication cable is a vital infrastructure for the communication as well as for the financial stability of the country. Whenever, there is a cable cut, besides the huge revenue loss, it results in a loss of 50-60 per cent of the connectivity,” the Ministry said in a note.

The repair time taken for the undersea cable in Indian waters is comparatively higher than in other countries due to large number of clearances and permissions required, the note said, adding that there is an immediate need to speed up the process.

Published on January 01, 2013

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