PLANS to bring high-speed broadband to the Western Isles have been delayed after a ship’s crew dropped a £3.6m cable.
The blunder in the Sound of Harris means a rescue operation will have to be mounted to pull the fibre optic cable up from almost 400m.
The mistake happened as the French-registered ship Rene Descartes was travelling between Harris and Lewis.
The cable, supposed to be able to take a weight of ten tonnes, reportedly snapped while lowering an eight-tonne “submersible plough” into the water.
The lost cable is off North Uist at a depth of 383ft – too deep to rescued by a conventional diving team.
Orange Marine, which operates Rene Descartes, is yet to send out a formal recovery plan, according to BT, the project managers for the operation.
The incident has left local fisherman angry, following the disruption the operation had already caused in their waters.
They had been asked to leave the area with an offer of compensation, in order to allow the cable laying to take place.
Agreeing to move to the poorer waters in Minch, less suitable for fishing at this time of year, the incident is a major setback for the trade.
One fisherman, who asked not to be named, said: “The tides are very strong just now and we would prefer to be working in shallower water.
“The weather is on our side and we must hit this window now before the weaher truns in order to make enough money to see us through the winter.
“We need to be compensated for every penny lost because of this incident.”
An Orange spokeswoman confirmed: “On September 13, while the cable ship Rene Descartes – owned and operated by Orange Marine – was laying the Scottish Highlands and Isalnds broadband submarine cable between the islands of North Uist and Harris, the “plough” got caught and sank at a depth of 117m (383ft).
“The ship’s crew applied all the relevant procedures in an attempt to recover the plough but unfortunately did not succeed. All safety procedures were respected and there were no injuries.
“The decision was taken to leave the plough on the seabed in order to avoid delaying the cable ships operations. The ploughs location has been identified with a buoy and a notice to mariners has been issued. Orange Marine is plannin a recovery operation in the next few weeks.
“The Descartes will complete the cable-laying operation using its ROV trencher (remotely operated veichle) in the coming days.”
A BT spokesman added: “We are waiting for a formal plan from Orange Marine as to what is going to be done to recover it. The master of the Rene Descartes has informed Marine Scotland, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Northern Lighthouse Board and Stornoway Coastguard, giving them the location details.”