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Community / Shetland telecommunication outage likely to last until Saturday

MSP Beatrice Wishart calls for better and more resilient telecommunication links

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A MAJOR incident has been declared after a subsea cable connecting Shetland’s communication links with the outside world was cut late on Wednesday night.

Most phone and internet connections are down, and services based on digital connectivity such as cash machines and card payments are not working. Some shops in the Toll Clock shopping centre, using Shetland Telecom services, are able to accept card payments.

Assistance alarm for vulnerable people may also not be working correctly.

The emergency situation could last until Saturday according to council chief executive Maggie Sandison who was meeting with local police and representatives from other vital services on Thursday morning.

Police are advising people not to make non-urgent phone calls for the time being so that all available lines can be used for emergencies if required.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael also said that it could take up to two days to restore vital telecommunication services, however this has so far not been confirmed by BT.

It is understood that the subsea cable connecting Shetland with the Scottish mainland was dredged up.

Some telephone landlines within the isles and internet services provided through the Faroese Shefa link continue to function.

Shetland Islands Council can’t be reached via landline telephone at the moment, internal council phone and e-mail connections do however work.

Sumburgh Airport is still open, and flights are operating but all network and mobile phone connections at the airport are out of service.

Passengers are encouraged to contact Loganair if they have any questions.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said the outage is having “huge repercussions” for families and businesses across the islands and rallied for better and more resilient telecommunication links.

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“This kind of disruption points to the fundamental vulnerability of our current island infrastructure. We need long-term changes to create a resilient service that can guarantee residents connectivity, reliability and safety,” she said.

A BT spokesperson said: “Due to a break in a third-party subsea cable connecting Shetland with the Scottish mainland, some phone, broadband and mobile services are affected.

“Engineers are working to divert services via other routes as soon as possible and we’ll provide further updates. Our external subsea provider is also looking to restore their link quickly.

“Anyone who needs to call 999 should try their landline or their mobile, even if they don’t have signal from their own mobile provider. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.”

Police superintendent David Ross added that that people should go to their next police station, ambulance station, fire station or hospital to report an emergency or try flagging down an emergency services vehicle should they fail to get a connection via the 999 number.

“Officers are patrolling in vehicles and on foot and we are working with partners to make additional resources available,” he said.

“I would ask that relatives and neighbours of elderly or vulnerable people check on them regularly. Assistance alarms may not be operating correctly.”

Meanwhile, isles MP Alistair Carmichael has already raised the outage as an urgent issue in the Commons and received a commitment to be fully updated on the incident by the UK Government.

“I am glad that the Secretary of State [for digital, culture, media and sport Michelle Donelan] is taking this seriously. I will be staying in touch with UK government ministers and with BT to ensure that we get reconnected as soon as possible.

“Thanks to police, coastguard and other emergency services for stepping up quickly and effectively to minimise the impact and give clear information to those affected.

“I will be in Shetland from this evening and hope to meet with local partners and emergency services.”

Meanwhile, repairs to another cable connecting Shetland and Faroe are ongoing after it was damaged last week.

More to follow…

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