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​​Safeguarding sustainability: the state of underwater seabed security

Jan 18, 2024 1:31:41 PM / by George Brandenburg


Although it may not generate headlines in the same way as other matters of national security, underwater seabed security is of vital importance. Our access to energy and ability to communicate with others around the world depend on undersea cables. They may be hidden many miles below the ocean’s surface, but they are integral to our daily lives. And the sustainability movement will only increase the necessity of seabed security in the years to come.


The NordStream pipeline blasts of September 2022 have reignited awareness of the importance of underwater seabed security. Those blasts, which led to the loss of around 800 million cubic metres of gas, according to Russia's Gazprom, also resulted in the disturbance of long-buried toxic substances that threaten marine life. But although this incident has certainly left most stakeholders in agreement that something must be done to improve underwater seabed security, what this should be exactly is less certain.

Seeking stakeholder alignment 

While the damage caused by insufficient security around undersea cables is undisputed - in terms of sustainability, energy, and the economy - aligning the actions of the various stakeholders involved in underwater seabed security remains a challenge. The aftermath of the NordStream incident alone, for example, involved investigations by both Sweden and Denmark, in whose exclusive economic zones the blasts occurred, as well as Germany, where the pipes land.


What’s more, national governments are far from the only players involved in underwater seabed security. Other stakeholders include private companies, which are responsible for managing the majority of submerged cables. In addition, supranational institutions like NATO and the EU may be involved in the defence of undersea infrastructure too. 


The importance of aligning the defence strategies of different stakeholders is of huge importance given the critical nature of marine infrastructure. This importance has only increased as initiatives around sustainability have gathered pace. In the Netherlands, for instance, the government wants to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2035 but this will require a significant expansion in the number of offshore wind farms in the country. While this level of ambition is needed to safeguard the planet’s future, it would also leave the country susceptible to widespread blackouts if the marine infrastructure surrounding the wind farms was attacked. 


At DeRegt, our sustainability mindset means we are in total agreement with the Netherlands' decision to increase its reliance on offshore wind. However, if our country becomes overly dependent on this power source, the risk of sabotage becomes enormous. All one needs to do is damage the connection between the offshore wind farm and the mainland, and a significant part of the Netherlands would be paralysed. 


The NordStream attack demonstrated this risk, but other incidents - from accident or attack - must be guarded against. As evidence, although underwater power cables represent only approximately 10% of a wind farm’s overall costs, cable failures account for roughly 80% of all payouts for offshore wind insurance claims. Security and sustainability, therefore, must go hand in hand. 

The critical factors for subsea defence

Today’s underwater defence systems are built using numerous components, with many relying on underwater defence cables. Designing a cable that meets the needs of these different defence systems requires a different approach for each project. One of the most commonly deployed is a towed sonar defence system.


The two main types of towed sonar systems (variable depth sonar and towed array sonar) require different types of cable, but both depend on the testing and validation of standards for a defence project to be successful. Although sonar cables are complicated constructions, where functional, operational, handling, environmental and interface requirements must all be considered, many undersea projects continue to rely on sonar systems for defence projects. An example of this is the partnership between DeRegt and Ultra Electronics, a leader in underwater warfare technologies, which will see both companies work on sonar cables to be used on 12 Halifax-class frigates within the Canadian Navy. 

Fragile optimism for the future 

Everyone recognises the need for robust seabed security but, in many cases, the infrastructure solutions on the seabed are not developed to communicate with each other in such a way that would reinforce this security. Often, the challenge comes down to data. To provide an effective defence against threats - whether they involve cyber warfare or physical attacks - it is essential that infrastructure can merge data from all relevant parties so stakeholders have a holistic picture of seabed security.


The technology required to collect and process the data needed to improve seabed defence is available, but deploying and integrating it with existing systems is a challenge that will require input from multiple stakeholders. The North Sea, as one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, exemplifies this challenge. Finding out who is present on or under the water and what they are doing will not be easy - but data holds the answer. 


Time presents another challenge. Our rapidly warming planet is telling humanity that sustainability must be a priority. The recent NordStream sabotage highlighted the fact that security is another. We are reliant on this infrastructure - for energy, communication, sustainability, and more. Underwater seabed security may be out of sight, but it cannot be out of mind. A proactive, collaborative approach to security is needed now more than ever.


Topics: Renewable Energy, Subsea cables

George Brandenburg
Written by

As Business Development Manager at DeRegt, I specialise in co-creating high-performance subsea cables for the renewables industry. Together with pioneers in solar, wave- and tidal projects, we develop dynamic cables that are cost-effective and are built to last the harsh conditions at sea. Do you have questions about connecting the grid? Let's tackle your challenges together.

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