Sunday 17 December 2017

Cash-strapped State resorts to selling sea cables for scrap


A plan to haul up disused telecommunications cables from the sea bed around Ireland and sell the the scrap copper to help the State's finances is under consideration by the Department of Communications.

The suggestion comes from Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh, who believes the high price of scrap copper, which is now selling at €8,000 per tonne, has potentially made the costly recovery of the materials economically viable.

Mr McHugh has written to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, proposing that his department should carry out the salvage work on the dormant copper wires, which have been superseded by satellite technology.

In response to a parliamentary question, Mr Rabbitte said: "While the recovery and disposal of redundant copper lines lying offshore or elsewhere is not an issue in which my department has a function, I have asked my officials to contact the deputy with a view to establishing who the owners of the material are in order that the potential value and recovery of the material might be considered."

Various communications cables have been laid between Ireland and the US since the 1850s and would be easily recoverable.

"Recently installed cables tend to be buried below the seabed, but a significant proportion of cables are unburied on the sea floor," said Mr McHugh.

"The first transatlantic telecommunications cables went from Valentia, Co Kerry, to Newfoundland, Canada, and submarine cables have been laid on the Irish seabed since the 1850s.

"Old telegram and telegraph copper wires could easily be winched from the seafloor on to 40ft to 50ft tugboats, and then sold on the market.

"Eircom, Bord Gais and the ESB have collected survey data on cables on the Irish seabed since 1986, and I understand that Kingfisher Information Service, a department within the [UK's] Sea Fish Industry Authority is undertaking a cable awareness project that will cover waters between the coasts of Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ireland and the UK.

"The [department] should establish the quantity of dormant copper on the Irish seabed and the feasibility of its excavation. There may be a useful financial and employment opportunity for the State in this proposal," he added.

Sunday Independent

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