Communications in Shetland have been completely shut down with phones, internet and computers in a total blackout after the south subsea cable between the islands and the mainland was cut.
Police have declared a major incident and are patrolling to try and reassure residents, telling them they still may be able to call 999 in an emergency even without signal.
People are being warned not to try and make non urgent calls and to check on elderly or vulnerable neighbours as assistance alarms may not be working.
Repairs to another cable connecting Shetland and Faroe are ongoing after it was damaged last week.
Engineers are working to restore services or divert them by other routes as the cause of today’s blackout is yet to be confirmed, with extra resources being sent to Shetland as Police Scotland tries to ensure the public can access emergency services.
This comes after a top military man warned in January that Russian sabotage could wreck undersea cables that supply our internet and $10 trillion of financial deals a day.
Then just weeks ago senior politicians, defence chiefs and experts warned Europe’s critical infrastructure is now at risk after the Nord Stream gas pipes were blown up in an attack widely thought to have been orchestrated by Russia.
The MP for Orkney and Shetlands, Alastair Carmichael, told Mailonline: ‘We don’t know the cause yet. These things have happened in the past with catastrophic effect.
‘It is not unknown and usually it is because a trawler picks up the line on the seabed and pulls it up and breaks it.
‘That has been known to happen in the past but at the moment they are pretty well focussed on finding out exactly where it is broken and getting whatever you need to do to get it fixed.’
While he said the priority was fixing the issue, that resilience would also need to be looked at in future.
‘That is kind of the order of things,’ Mr Carmichael said. ‘Get it fixed, find out how it broke and then think about what you need to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.’
Asked if the damage could have been caused by the Russians in retaliation for the UK’s support for Ukraine during the country’s war with Putin’s army, Mr Carmichael said that had not been ruled out and was very much on people’s minds.
Mr Carmichael added that it was too early to say with any certainty what was behind the damage and that Russian interference could not be ruled out.
He said: ‘You’re not the first person to ask me that. I have no reason to believe that is the case and as I say we have known this kind of thing to happen before.
‘But until you know anything I guess is possible.’
Northern Police said in a tweet about the Shetland outage today: ‘Engineers are working to fix a complete outage on Shetland affecting its connection to the main line.
‘Phones, internet and computers are not usable.
‘Officers will continue to patrol the area and we will give you an update on the situation as soon as we have more information.’
A BT Group spokesperson said: ‘Due to a break in a third-party subsea cable connecting Shetland with the Scottish mainland, some phone, broadband and mobile services are affected.
‘Engineers are working to divert services via other routes as soon as possible and we’ll provide further updates.
‘Our external subsea provider is also looking to restore their link quickly.
‘Anyone who needs to call 999 should try their landline or their mobile, even if they don’t have signal from their own mobile provider. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.’
People have been tweeting about the incident as minimal WiFi appears to be functioning. One said: ‘I messaged my dad and no reply, obviously.’
She added: ‘Guess I won’t be speaking to my parents then.’
Another wrote: ‘No internet. No mobiles. Limited landline phone, sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Shop down the road only accepting cash.’
One said he was having to reschedule meetings and described the implications of the outage given the scale of it as ‘pretty scary’.
Police Scotland is currently in talks with partners including the Scottish Fire and Recue Service and HM Coastguard to bring additional emergency support to the island.
Ch Insp Jane Mackenzie told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that police officers would be more visible on the island in the meantime.
Officers are patrolling both in vehicles and on foot, Police Scotland confirmed.
Ch Insp Mackenzie said: ‘We’re still trying to work to establish the full extent of the problem – we know there are some telephone lines working, 999 lines are believed to be working and some mobile networks are still working.
‘So anyone calling 999 should be able to do so from a mobile phone. What we would ask is if you have an emergency you should first try a landline or mobile to call 999.
‘If that doesn’t work, you should flag down an emergency service vehicle that isn’t using their blue light or attend either a police station, hospital, fire or ambulance station to report the emergency.’
People are being advised not to make non-urgent calls for the time being so that all available lines can be used for emergencies if required.
The incident could last until Saturday, council chief executive Maggie Sandison who was meeting with local police and representatives from other vital services this morning told Shetland News.
Repairs to another cable connecting Shetland and Faroe are ongoing after it was damaged last week.
MP for Orkney and Shetlands Alastair Carmichael said he had raised the issue with the UK government, but understood it could be days before communications were restored.
He said the priority was fixing the issue but that resilience would also need to be looked at in future.
He insisted both the Scottish and UK governments should be ‘all hands to the pump’ to get the line repaired as soon as possible.
‘There is that element of it just being part of what people on islands have to put up with but you shouldn’t have to,’ he said.
‘There should be more resilience in the system so that if something like this happens there is an adequate fall back. We clearly just don’t have that at the moment.
‘The best estimate is that it might be a couple of days. It only happened in the early hours of the morning and I think they are still working that sort of thing out.
‘The impact has been severe. It is a massive inconvenience because we rely on good phone and broadband lines for so much these days but also the fact that you are not easily going to be able to contact the emergency services has got to be worrying.
‘Getting this fixed has got to be the priority and it has to be all hands to the pump because modern life needs this service. It feels like It would if you’d lost water or electricity.
‘I was in the chamber today so I asked the Secretary of State about it.
‘She was fairly helpful but it’s early days. I want to see everybody working together on this.
‘I don’t want ministers in Edinburgh saying this has nothing to do with us. It’s all London’s fault or vice versa. If there’s something to be done to fix this they should all be doing it.’
Homes and businesses are affected across the isles, which are 130 miles (210 km) from the Scottish mainland and have a population of about 23,000.
There are reports that many shops unable to take card payments.
Thousands of feet under the ocean lies a global network of internet cables responsible for carrying 97 per cent of international communications.
In a digital age, these physical cables, sheathed in steel and plastic, are central to how we function.
If they were to be disabled, it would not just prevent us accessing the web on our phones and laptops — it would disrupt everything from agriculture and healthcare to military logistics and financial transactions, instantly plunging the world into a new depression.
According to experts, this doomsday scenario ranks alongside nuclear war as an existential threat to our way of life.
In January, chief of the defence staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said he thought Russia is the hostile power most likely to cripple these vital arteries.
In an interview, he said there had been ‘a phenomenal increase’ in Russian submarine activity over the past 20 years, adding: ‘Russia has grown the capability to put at threat those undersea cables and potentially exploit them.’
Any such interference would be treated with the utmost seriousness.
Asked whether destroying cables could be considered an act of war, Britain’s most senior military officer said: ‘Potentially, yes.’
In shallower waters, a vessel could deliberately drag an anchor along the seabed to rip the cables apart.
Such an attack could be covered up by passing it off as an innocent fishing boat accident.
Defence experts warned last month that Europe’s critical infrastructure could be at risk after the Nord Stream gas pipes were blown up in an attack widely thought to have been orchestrated by Russia.
Fears mounted that pipelines, rigs and undersea cables that countries including Britain rely on for energy, banking, stock trading and business could now be targeted, as German interior minister Nancy Faeser warned leaders to prepare for ‘previously unimaginable’ threats to their nations.
Some have already begun scrambling to shore up their defences. Jonas Gahr Stoere, Norway’s prime minister, said the military would be visibly deployed around oil and gas rigs to protect them.
That suggests the UK – connected to Norway via two major pipelines which carry a third of this country’s gas – could also be at risk. Britain’s largest oil and gas fields, which are dotted with dozens of rigs and criss-crossed by pipes, also sit close to Norwegian waters.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman earlier said: ‘We constantly observe our areas of responsibility and interest, this includes protecting critical infrastructure such as underwater cables and offshore structures.’
Mark Galeotti – a Russia expert, former adviser to the foreign office, and now at the Council on Geostrategy – told MailOnline that Putin is ‘likely’ behind the Nord Stream attack and intended it ‘as a warning’.
‘They blow up their own pipeline to remind the West that if it really pushes Putin into a corner, amongst his options are attacks on infrastructure,’ he said.
‘A pipeline from Norway to Poland has just been inaugurated, after all. Just as seriously, he could target undersea internet cables, which would not ‘break’ the internet but would certainly degrade it.’
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the explosions, dismissing the suggestion as ‘stupid ‘. But Russia does have the capacity to carry out such an attack.
Britain sent warships to the North Sea to protect underwater gas and oil pipelines and internet cables from Russian sabotage after the Nordstream was blown up in a suspected Kremlin attack.
Type 23 frigate HMS Somerset and survey ship HMS Enterprise were deployed earlier this month amid fears that pipelines, rigs and undersea cables that countries including Britain rely upon for energy were at risk of further attacks.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace acted to ‘reassure’ those working near the pipelines after Western intelligence agencies were blindsided by the pipeline blasts.
The cable that was damaged between Faroe and Shetland last week will be repaired on Saturday, according to Faroese Telecom’s head of infrastructure Páll Vesturbú.
He said: ‘The damage is affecting most of telecom services to Shetland. There are some services still working but we will try to establish more services during the day if that’s possible.
‘We expect it will be fishing vessels that damaged the cable but it is very rare that we have two problems at the same time.’
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has already raised today’s outage as an urgent issue in the Commons.
‘I am glad that the Secretary of State [for digital, culture, media and sport Michelle Donelan] is taking this seriously. I will be staying in touch with UK government ministers and with BT to ensure that we get reconnected as soon as possible.
‘Thanks to police, coastguard and other emergency services for stepping up quickly and effectively to minimise the impact and give clear information to those affected.
‘I will be in Shetland from this evening and hope to meet with local partners and emergency services.’