Damage to submarine telecommunications cables and plant

It is an offence to wilfilly, or by culpable negligence, break or injure a submarine cable in a way that might interrupt or obstruct telegraphic or telephonic communication (see Section 3 of the Submarine Telegraph Act 1885 as applied by Section 8(i) of the Continental Shelf Act 1964).

Although there are a large number of submarine telecommunications cables on the UKCS, the risk of them being damaged by offshore activity is minimal as long as operators observe reasonable caution and remain aware of their location. PON 3 aims to inform licensees of the ways in which the telecommunications industry can help them to avoid contravening this legislation.

Please note:

  • the position of out-of-service cables is likely to be approximate and the position of all cables and repeaters should be verified with the cable owners.
  • cable owners can hold any person causing damage entirely responsible for all the costs incurred in repairing damage to any cable system.
  • any person committing a punishable offence under the legislation could be punished without prejudice to civil action for damages by the cable owner.

Cable owners prefer offshore activities with the potential to damage cable systems be kept at a distance of at least one nautical mile from cables and two nautical miles from repeaters. These activities may include, but are not limited to:

  • drilling
  • core sampling and other seabed invasive techniques
  • pipeline and umbilical installation, and other construction activities
  • anchor handling operations
  • survey operations

Cable owners do recognise the preferred minimum distances are not always feasible and that the safety zone distances may not always be necessary to safeguard cable systems. Given this, please consider the following:

  • consult with cable owners before undertaking any activity that might damage cable systems. Where the precise location of the activity is not critical, it may be possible to agree with the cable owner a safe distance from the cable system from which to operate. However, if the precise location of the activity is critical and within the distances given above, you must determine the exact position of the cable system by physical inspection. The cable owner will then be able to decide on a safe minimum distance from the cable system and advise on the operational procedures and safeguards necessary to avoid damaging the cable system.
  • it may be possible to move a cable in cases where the precise location of activity will almost certainly damage the system. If the cable owner agrees to move the cable, you should expect to reimburse for all costs incurred.