Regulator to beef up submarine cable protection

The Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) has proposed a new protection regime that will restrict and prohibit certain maritime activities up to 40 nautical miles off the Sydney beaches where some of Australia's most important submarine cables make landfall.The new regulations are designed to protect the Southern Cross Cable and the Australia/Japan Cable, which land at Clovelly, Tamarama and Narrabeen beaches.

The Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) has proposed a new protection regime that will restrict and prohibit certain maritime activities up to 40 nautical miles off the Sydney beaches where some of Australia's most important submarine cables make landfall.

The new regulations are designed to protect the Southern Cross Cable and the Australia/Japan Cable, which land at Clovelly, Tamarama and Narrabeen beaches. Submarine cables are typically armoured and buried for the last 500 metres or so approaching beaches, and are then buried until they reach deep waters. This protection is deemed sufficient to protect them from most maritime threats such as large ships using their anchors nearby.

The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Protection of Submarine Cables and Other Measures) Act 2005, however, calls for greater protection of the cables to reflect their importance as economic infrastructure. The Act, which came into force in September 2005, calls for the creation of a regime that explicitly restricts or prohibits certain activities to further reduce the likelihood of any disruption to cable service.

"The intent of the legislation is to increase penalties and have a much more rigorous set of guidelines for where protection should apply," says David Brumfield, executive manager of ACMA's Regulation and Compliance Branch. "The intent is to give greater certainty to cable operators," with the public interest also an important concern.

"There has always been some form of protection for marine cables," Brumfield explains. There are international treaties and domestic legislation from the 1960s. What has changed now is the reliance on those cables," which ACMA now rates as contributing AU$5 billion a year to the local economy.

"It is stating the obvious to say that business and community life has become much more reliant on reliable communications. The significance of those links has increased accordingly, but current protections are a bit vague".

ACMA's proposed new regime would therefore ban the use of explosives in protection zones, along with certain types of trawling for fish. Recreational fishing would also be affected with a ban on "targeting bottom-dwelling fish cannot use wire line or J-hooks above size 4/0 in waters beyond 500 metres from shore."

ACMA's proposed standards are now online here and the public is invited to comment on them before November 10th. The protection zones are expected to come into force during 2007, after a period of public consultation.

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