Escher.gif (426 bytes)

History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

South African Cables
by Bill Glover & Bill Burns

South Africa's Submarine Cable Network
Image courtesy of Bob Shackleton


South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961 and so missed out on the COMPAC Commonwealth telephone cable. To overcome this, a new company, “The South Atlantic Cable Company”, was formed in South Africa by the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa and American Cable & Radio.

SAT 1 Cable sample
Image courtesy of Bob Shackleton

They awarded a contract to Standard Telephone and Cables Ltd to manufacture and lay a co-axial telephone cable between Sesimbra, Portugal and Melkbosstrand, South Africa. This was laid in 1968. The cable, known as SAT 1, was laid in four sections.

The following section was laid by CS Mercury:
Melkbosstrand, South Africa - Georgetown, Ascension. 2594 nm with 277 repeaters.

The following sections were laid by HMTS Monarch (4):
Georgetown, Ascension - Baia da Mordeira, Cape Verde Islands. 1698 nm with 179 repeaters.
Baia da Mordeira - Santa Cruz, Tenerife. 856 nm with 91 repeaters.
Santa Cruz - Sesimbra, Portugal. 736 nm with 78 repeaters.

CS John W. Mackay laid the shore ends.

The cable carried 360 telephone circuits, opened for traffic in February 1969, and was taken out of service in June 1993.

See David Watson's memoirs for stories about laying SAT 1.

To provide a link to the UK for SAT 1, the GPO using HMTS Monarch (4) laid a cable from Goonhilly, Cornwall to Sesimbra, Portugal in 1969. The 951 nm cable and 128 repeaters were manufactured by Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., Greenwich.


Built in 1944 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.

Length 252.0 ft Breadth 36.4 ft Depth 22.3 ft Gross tonnage 1538

Built as HMS Bullfrog, the ship was used for harbour defence work. In 1946 the vessel was sold to Cable & Wireless Ltd., renamed CS Retriever (4) and used for cable repair work. In 1961 she was sold to the Commercial Cable Company who named her CS Cable Restorer. The South Atlantic Cable Company purchased her in July 1972 to act as a repair ship for SAT 1, based at Cape Town. She was taken out of service in 1993 and given to the Simonstown Maritime Museum.


In 1992 it was decided to replace SAT 1 with a fibre optic cable to be known as SAT 2. The cable ran from Funchal, Madeira and El Medano, Tenerife, to Melkbosstrand, South Africa.

The SAT 2 system was supplied by STC and Alcatel. STC provided the 62 regens (repeaters) from MLK north, as well as the terminal equipment at MLK. Submarcon provided the remaining 20 regens to FUN (18) & MED (2) as well as the BU (Branching Unit). Alcatel provided the 9500 km (5900 nm) of cable and the terminal equipment at the northern stations.

CS Vercors laid 5788 km of cable and 49 repeaters as follows. Melkbosstrand to repeater 18 and then from Funchal and Medano to repeater 51. Work commenced on 10 May 1992 and finished on 11 October 1992. The balance of the cable from repeater 18 to repeater 50, 3712 km and 33 repeaters was laid by CS Sovereign. Capacity is 15360 channels. The cable opened for service on 29 March 1993.


Built in 1975 by Societe Nouvelle des Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre.

Length 433.0' Breadth 59.4' Depth 24.0' Gross tonnage 5886

CS Chamarel (formerly CS Vercors).
The old name can still be seen.

Image courtesy of Bob Shackleton

At launch the vessel became the main cable laying ship, based at La Seyne sur Mer. Fitted with three cable tanks with a capacity of 1330 nm or 3200 tonnes of lightweight cable, storage for 136 repeaters was also provided. Both forward and aft paying out gear was fitted, built by the shipbuilders. Taken out of service in 2003, renamed CS Chamarel, and is now based in Cape Town as the repair vessel for South African cables.


Built in 1991 by Van de Giessen de Noord, Netherlands.

Length 127.3 m Breadth 21 m Depth 7 m Gross tonnage 11242

CS Sovereign (with CS Wave Sentinel) at Global Marine Systems Ltd. depot, Portland Harbour, Dorset, England.
Image courtesy of Bill Glover

Built for BT Marine Ltd. When Cable & Wireless (Marine) Ltd took over the BT cable fleet ownership of CS Sovereign was taken over by BT Forty Ltd. C&W acted as managers and operators of the vessel. When Global Marine Ltd. took over the C&W cable fleet similar conditions applied. The vessel's main duties are on Atlantic cable maintenance. Her home port is Portland, Dorset, UK.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Bob Shackleton for supplying much material on the South African cables

Last revised: 28 September, 2014

Return to Atlantic Cable main page

Search all pages on the Atlantic Cable site:

Research Material Needed

The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: [email protected]

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: