Elon Musk’s satellite internet business is helping restore connectivity to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, according to an official in Fiji where work is underway.
Tonga’s only fiber optic link to the internet and the rest of the world was interrupted by a volcanic eruption on January 15 and only limited connectivity has been possible since.
“A SpaceX team is now in Fiji establishing a Starlink Gateway Station to reconnect Tonga to the world,” Fiji Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said on Twitter.
The shock wave from the Hunga Tonga volcano has shattered Tonga’s internet connection, adding days of heartbreaking uncertainty to disaster assessments. A @SpaceX The team is now in Fiji to establish a Starlink Gateway station to reconnect Tonga to the world.
Nice move, @Elon Musk!
— Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (@FijiAG) February 7, 2022
Starlink is a division of Tesla boss Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, and in January Musk himself took to Twitter to mention that Starlink might be able to help.
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages and resorts and blanketed the nation’s capital of around 105,000 people in ash, as well as severed the communications cable to optical fiber.
SpaceX’s work schedule is unclear, although the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation, citing Sayed-Khaiyum, said engineers would operate a ground station in Fiji for six months.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. The office of the Prime Minister of Tonga and the state telecommunications company Tonga Communications Corporation were not immediately available by phone or email.
Refinitiv shipping data shows the cable repair vessel Reliance has been off the main island of Tonga for almost a week as it seeks to repair the damaged submarine cable.
Any improvement in communications is likely to be a relief for Tongans who have struggled to stay in touch with loved ones overseas and help recovery efforts that have also been hampered by a COVID-19 lockdown.
© Thomson Reuters 2022