Mysterious damage to vital communications cables under the Red Sea has raised concerns about whether the conflict in the Middle East is beginning to threaten the global internet.

Just as the waters off Yemen feature crucial sea lanes, they are also a critical location for undersea cables that carry email and other digital traffic between Asia and the West. About a dozen cables run through the area and more are planned.

These bundles of glass fibers, about the thickness of a garden hose, “are extremely important,” said Tim Stronge, vice president of research at TeleGeography, which analyzes the telecommunications market. “More than 90 percent of all communications traffic between Europe and Asia passes through those” cables.

Late last month, Seacom, a company that specializes in providing communications to African countries, noticed that data had stopped flowing through its line that runs from Mombasa, Kenya, across the Red Sea to Zafarana in Egypt.

At the same time, two cables linking west and east were down, affecting 25 percent of traffic in the area, according to an estimate by HGC Global Communications, a telecommunications company based in Hong Kong.

In an interview from his office in Johannesburg, Prenesh Padayachee, Seacom’s chief digital and operations officer, said the damage to his company’s cable occurred at the bottom of the Red Sea, in Yemeni waters about 650 feet deep. The other two damaged cables are nearby.

It is still unclear what disabled the cables. Suspicions have focused on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, but the Houthis, who have attacked numerous ships in the area in what they say is solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the war between Israel and Hamas, have denied responsibility.

Padayachee said the cause of the damage would remain unknown until a repair ship managed to lift the cable and examine it. Candidates include an anchor dragged by a ship, a disturbance on the sea floor, or sabotage. “We will only know once we lift the cable,” she said.

Organizing repairs is proving difficult. Seacom is working with a company called E-marine, which has ships in nearby Oman, to address the problem, but Padayachee acknowledged that the work requires assessing the political situation and obtaining permits from Yemen.

He said he was hopeful work could begin next month.

While Seacom has managed to reroute most of its Internet traffic over other cables, Padayachee said he was irritated by regional instability hampering the repair effort. “We would prefer to have definitive timelines that are not dictated by geopolitical situations,” he said.

Having so many cables running through such a volatile area is also a cause for concern. Individual lines are relatively easy to damage. While the cables are buried and armored near the coast, further out at sea they lie on the bottom with little protection.

Stronge estimated that there were approximately 500 undersea cables worldwide and an average of 100 breaks a year. Most of the time, the cause turns out to be some type of maritime accident, such as an anchor being dragged, he said.

Stronge said what made up for the fragility of the individual cables was the redundancy that operators built into the system. He said that even if all cables in the Red Sea were cut, Internet traffic, such as tankers, could be diverted around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa or eastwards through Singapore, Japan and the United States. to Europe. “It’s slower, but it can be done,” he said.