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Fishermen "salvaging" fibre-optic lines

Fishermen who were allowed to take unused war-era undersea copper cables have gone too far, "salvaging" fibre-optic lines providing some of Vietnam's Internet and other international communications.

A Ministry of Posts and Telematics report seen on Thursday urged authorities in central and southern regions to prevent the theft of cable, whose loss underdeveloped Vietnam can ill afford.

"The general assessment is that most fishermen, and in some cases even the local authorities, had a very simple understanding of the consequences of the theft of under-sea fibre optic cable," the report on a May 31 to June 5 investigation said.

State-run newspapers said an 11-km (7-mile) section of stolen TVH fibre-optic cable would be replaced at a cost of $5.8 million. It was part of the line that transmits data from Vietnam to Thailand and Hong Kong.

In all, about 43 km (27 miles) of fibre-optic cable is missing, including about 32 km (20 miles) stolen from a cable operated by a Singaporean company.

"Now just one undersea cable connects Vietnam with the outside world," Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said.

The theft began after the government in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau last year allowed fishermen and soldiers to salvage undersea copper cable laid before 1975 to sell as scrap.

The Vietnam war in which the United States backed a South Vietnam government, ended in April 1975 when communist North Vietnam troops captured Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.

The permission to salvage the cable has been withdrawn, the ministry has asked the Coast Guard to increase patrols and inspections and officials have started a public relations campaign to educate fishermen about the importance of the cables.

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