Virgin Media sues Irish scallop fishers for $870,000 for alleged damage to underwater cable

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An Irish trawler is facing the might of U.K. telecoms giant Virgin Media over accusations its hunt for scallops caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to undersea cables.

Virgin Media Wholesale, which is owned by Virgin Media O2, has accused a fishing vessel of damaging its underwater fiber optic cable nine years ago, multiple publications reported.

The group has filed a €800,000 ($870,000) lawsuit in Ireland’s High Court against Irish registered fishing vessel MV The Lida Suzanna, which allegedly damaged a 219km (136 mile) cable running between Dublin and Blackpool, England.

The trawler was allegedly carrying out scallop fishing, which involves dredging the sea bed with heavy-duty metal frame nets, when it is said to have clipped Virgin’s cable in January 2015.

Virgin owns two cables, the Sirius South and the Sirius North, running between Ireland and the U.K. One of those was damaged during the alleged incident, taking days to repair while Virgin switched operations to its other cable. The damage is thought to have slowed internet speeds for Virgin’s users.

The incident in 2015 required Virgin Media to send its Pierre de Fermat repair ship to fix the cable, Wired reported at the time. 

A High Court case search shows the case was first brought against The Lida Suzanna in 2018, 

On the first day of depositions Tuesday, the plaintiffs said the fishermen should have been aware of the existence of the cable based on industry-approved charts and Ireland’s Marine Atlas, the Irish Times reported.

It added that the owner failed to make sure the trawler’s skipper and crew were adequately informed about the location of subsea cables before carrying out their activities.

The defendants, however, are not giving in to Virgin Media’s wholesale subsidiary, which generated £205 million ($262 million) in revenue in 2022, without a fight.

Lawyers representing the trawler’s owners argue there is no proof that the vessel was to blame for the damage, the Irish Independent reports. 

Even if it was, the lawyers argue any damage was Virgin’s fault because it didn’t take appropriate measures to bury or protect the cables. Because of this, the fishermen argue Virgin Media was contributorily negligent to the damages. 

The trawler doubled down by arguing Virgin Media’s failure to protect its cables in an “area of fishing ground established centuries past” was particularly negligent, and that it was not its responsibility to amend its fishing practices for Virgin.

Virgin is seeking an order for the sale of the trawler if necessary, Irish publications reported.

Fortune has reached out to Ireland’s High Court.

A representative for Virgin Media didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Virgin can’t be said to have an amicable relationship with Ireland’s fishers, having faced several legal spats over damaged cables in the past.

In 2018, The reported Virgin Media Wholesale was pursuing two different trawlers for damage to its cables that had occurred years prior. One of those appears to be the Lida Suzanna case that began Tuesday. 

The other appears to have been against the MV Willie Joe trawler, but that case was settled in 2022.

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