Navies to guard undersea cable from Somali pirates

NAIROBI, April 16 (Reuters) - Foreign navies have agreed to protect a vessel installing an undersea high-speed Internet cable from pirates off the coast of Somalia, a Kenyan minister said on Thursday.

Sea gangs from lawless Somalia have been increasingly striking the Indian Ocean shipping lanes and strategic Gulf of Aden, capturing dozens of vessels and hundreds of hostages in attacks that have driven up insurance rates.

Patrols by Western navies have done little to deter the attacks.

Kenyan Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio said the 5,000 km (3,107 miles) fibre optic cable was on course for completion in June.

Last month, a government official said the route for the East African Marine Cable (TEAMS) had been shifted an extra 200 km from the coastline for fear of pirates.

"These are concerns we have but they are being addressed. We know it will be secure and will land in Mombasa on time," Poghisio said in a statement on Thursday.

"The process (of laying the cable) has begun and will probably take two months. It is likely that by the middle of June the ship should be anchoring in Mombasa, or rather delivering the cable to Mombasa," he added.

The $130 million cable will link Kenya's coastal town of Mombasa with Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

Kenya has been putting down a terrestrial cable connecting different parts of the country to prepare for the arrival of the marine cable, which could be east Africa's first speedy but cheap telecoms link with the rest of the world.

Another undersea project known as SEACOM is also expected to be operational in the second half of 2009 and two others are due to land in 2010 -- the Eastern African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the France Telecom/Orange Sat3-wasc-Safe cable.

East Africa has relied on expensive satellite connections for telephones and Internet. Telecoms operators and outsourcing firms are eagerly awaiting the cable's arrival, which is expected to slash costs and speed up connectivity. (Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Jack Kimball)