Transatlantic cable

The owner of a Halifax-registered shrimp trawler denies the vessel's fishing gear twice snapped a subsea telecom cable in May 2013. (CBC)

The owner of a Halifax-registered shrimp trawler denies the vessel was behind $2-million worth of damage to a subsea cable operated by a Greenland telecommunications company off the coast of Newfoundland.

A statement of defence filed in June in federal court says none of the fishing gear used by the Acadienne Gale II made any contact with the telecom cable. The trawler is owned by Acadienne Gale Fisheries Ltd., which is affiliated with seafood company Davis Strait Fisheries Ltd.

The cable was twice snapped in May 2013, affecting international Tele Greenland customers whose Internet service runs between Canada and Iceland.

Tele Greenland alleges fishing gear used by the Acadienne Gale II damaged the cable. It also says the vessel was operated in an "unsafe and unseamanlike manner," that outdated charts were being used, and that fishing gear was not properly controlled and monitored.

Statement of defence

But the statement of defence refutes allegations the vessel caused any damage. It claims the Acadienne Gale II was “many nautical miles to the west” of the cable during the first break on May 3, and that it didn’t cross the cable where it broke a second time on May 25.

“With respect to both incidents, the defendants say the positions of the cable breaks alleged by the plaintiff are commonly used fishing grounds and that there were other fishing vessels in the area on both May 3, 2013 and May 25, 2013…” says the statement of defence. “Any one of which may have interfered with the plaintiff’s cable, with or without knowledge of those onboard.”

And if the Acadienne Gale II did cause any damage, the defence argues it’s Tele Greenland’s fault for failing to maintain the cable position as marked on nautical charts, and not properly protecting it from “incidental contact to be reasonably expected in fishing grounds.”

Tele Greenland has launched two court actions in Halifax as it tries to recoup damages from the expensive repair jobs following the breaks.

Earlier this year, the company filed an application against the federal government. It says Fisheries and Oceans Canada has detailed data showing which vessels were in the area of the cable when it broke, but is refusing to release the information.

In a separate claim, Tele Greenland says it used satellite data from a commercial provider to allegedly determine the Acadienne Gale II was the culprit.

Vessels to avoid cable lanes

The court action against the trawler is one in a growing number of legal cases involving vessels allegedly damaging underwater telecommunications infrastructure.

Fibre optic cables crisscross oceans, allowing people to make overseas phone calls or surf internet sites from another part of the world.

Vessels in Canadian waters are required to keep up-to-date charts on board that show the location of cable lanes. Vessels are to avoid anchoring or fishing in those areas.

But boats continue to be the major threat to subsea cables around the world. A 2009 report by the International Cable Protection Committee says two-thirds of all cable breaks are caused by anchors or fishing, amounting to more than 100 each year.