The Tongatapu end of the Tonga Cable was being spliced this afternoon, and service is expected to come online by late Tuesday, 38 days after a large section was blown to bits by a volcanic eruption on 15 January.

“We need another 24 hours to connect the Tonga end,” James Panuve, CEO of Tonga Cable Ltd said.

The cable ship Reliance has built around 92 kms of cable to reconnect the Fiji end to the Tonga end, since it arrived in the area on 03 February.

“They have already laid the cable from Fiji and, as we speak, are pulling up the Tonga end of the cable for splicing,” Panuve said.

“This is a full-blown fibre optic cable, including a repeater, and the international service from Tongatapu should go back to normal.”

Panuve said the Reliance had already joined about five or six pieces of the Tonga Cable that they had recovered.

However, they had given up the search for a missing 55km section. He said while the ship was splicing the other bits they were also ranging around looking for the lost section, including the last repeater before the Tonga end, but could not find it.

“We suspect it’s buried in an avalanche.”

To bridge the gap, Tonga Cable had to borrow 59km held by another customer on the Reliance. “The rest was our own reserves, we had 28km spare, but we also recovered some bits.

“Nobody would have guessed the disaster that we’ve encountered. Since the ship arrived on 03 February we’ve been working 24/7 for 18 days,” he said.

Initially, it was expected that the cable would be repaired by 10 February, but when they realised there was more than one break, and the marine conditions were not favourable, the date was extended to 15 February.

Last week the PM said he expected the cable to by restored by 20 February.

However, as many Tongans returned to work Monday after two weeks COVID-19 lockdown, it was clear that communications were not yet back to normal. The demand for data was so great that even basic email was not working for many people in Nuku’alofa.

Panuve said that next week they will work on reconnecting the domestic side, but he was not optimistic that it would be a quick fix, because the extent of the damage is unknown.

“The international cable was 40km from the volcano, the other cable was way closer.”

If the damage to the domestic cable is extensive then new cable would have to be shipped in and “this could take many months,” he said.

However, once Tongatapu is reconnected to the cable then it will free up satellite space for the outer islands. The domestic telecommunications providers TCC and Digicel will allocate the satellite bandwidth and connectivity should improve for Vava’u and Ha’apai.

There’s also 50 new satellite terminals donated by SpaceX, that is expected to be used by the government.

“Elon Musk has given some satellite capacity, it is very fast and the MEIDECC are deciding who and where that will be placed,” he said.