Specialist marine engineers have been called in to fix a sub-sea fibre-optic cable damaged by copper cable thieves who couldn’t tell the difference.
BT was able to restore services within a day to almost 10,000 affected phone and broadband users, as well as mobile phone services, but needs to make a temporary repair.
The thieves struck at low tide in Loch Carron last Thursday, and BT engineers had to race to install a temporary cable at low tide the next day.
Now the marine engineering team will take over to make a permanent repair, and local police are hoping witnesses can identify the witless cable vandals.
Robert Morrison, BT Openreach’s senior operations manager for the Highlands & Islands, said it had presented a difficult engineering challenge for the teams who “worked their socks off”.
“People travelled from far and wide to get these services restored and worked flat out through Thursday night and all day Friday,” he added.
“By around 8pm on Friday we had a temporary cable on the beach and connected up and we were able to let the communities and the police and other emergency services know that full services had been restored.
“I really can’t praise our engineers efforts highly enough as the sea was virtually lapping at their feet when they finished connecting the links in the loch, and I’d also like to thank the local coastguards for providing us with safety support.
“The BT marine specialist team has now arrived on site and we are discussing with them putting in place a permanent fix, which will begin today.
“That will involve running a temporary subsea fibre cable across the loch for two days, which will allow them to carry out repairs to the permanent cable without having to interrupt services to customers again.
“The loch reaches a depth of up to 15-20 metres so the marine engineers will use a landing craft which they can anchor and lift the cable out of the water.”
As a result of the damage, 10 communities in the north-west Highlands lost their telephone connections – including 999 services – and 7,000 customers were without broadband connections. Some mobile operators were also affected by the incident.
Jim Ferguson-Hannah, chairman for Crimestoppers Scotland Highlands & Islands, said: “Incidents such as this don’t occur often in this area, but this one left a number of people frustrated and angry due to the disruption it caused.
“Cable theft is taking place far too often around the UK, so I would urge anyone with information on this incident to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 and help bring the person/s responsible for this crime to justice. We only ask what you know, not who you are.”