Laws governing undersea cables have hardly changed since 1884 – Tonga is a reminder they need modernising
In an article on The Conversation, Professor in Law Karen Scott says 95% of the world’s data travels along submarine cables and explains why the law governing them are so outdated.
Cable-laying ships navigate complex but outdated maritime laws. Shutterstock
Aside from the distress and inconvenience this is causing, Tonga’s predicament demonstrates a more general vulnerability of our global communication system.
Over 95% of the world’s data travels along the 436 submarine cables – around 1.3 million kilometres long in total – that connect all continents except Antarctica. These cables carry data integral to the internet, communication, and financial and defence systems worldwide.
There are natural hazards, as the Tonga eruption so graphically demonstrated. But the greatest threat to submarine cables is from fishing. Despite the cables being clearly marked on maritime charts, about 70% of damage is caused accidentally by gear such as trawl nets, dredges, long lines and fish aggregation devices.