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Vietnam telecom officials estimate it will take at least a month and cost over $5.84m to fix damaged undersea fiber-optic cables stolen by fishermen for salvage.

Viet Nam News reports an 11km section of the 560Mb/s cable that connects Vietnam with Thailand and Hong Kong was stolen by copper-hungry fishermen last March. The loss of the cable system, called TVH, has made the country almost completely dependent on a single 10Gb/s cable that links Vietnam to China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Under normal conditions, the country sends more than 80 per cent of its information to the outside world through the two cables.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has rallied authorities to crack down on cable thefts after documenting at least five cases of overenthusiastic scrappers since January. Authorities have seized nearly 1,500 tons of stolen cable in the process.

Last year, the southern province of Ba Ria Vung Tau resolved to let soldiers and fishermen salvage unused undersea cables laid before 1975 for scrap metal. Unfortunately, identifying pre-1975 cables underwater proved tricky for several fishermen in the area who reportedly "mistook" active cables for abandoned ones.

The province shortly withdrew the decision and banned cable salvaging altogether.

Vietnam's Ministry of Posts and Telematics officials are doubtful the cable raids are anything but deliberate, as the operational cables are buried 1-2m under the seabed. The same officials came up with the latest cable theft price tag Tuesday and resolved to enhance sea patrols to protect their remaining cable.

Vietnam National Youth Federation publication, Thanh Nien reports that one kilogram of cable fetches less than one US dollar while costing $13,000 to lay beneath the seabed.

In total, Vietnam has eight underwater cable systems; six of which are under foreign ownership and two owned by Vietnam — one of those being broken.

Thanh Nien said earlier deputy Telematics minister Le Nam Thang warned cable thefts qualify for the charge of destroying national communications and can result in the death sentence. ®

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