updated 1/2/2007 11:24:17 AM ET 2007-01-02T16:24:17

Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom Co. said Tuesday two repair ships will soon start fixing undersea cables damaged last week by an earthquake off the island's coast that resulted in a major disruption to telephone and Internet links across Asia.

The two ships will take two to three weeks to complete their task, said Wu Chih-ming, a senior official at Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's largest telecommunications company.

"The ships are expected to arrive in Taiwan today and tomorrow and will work at sea over the next two weeks," Wu said Tuesday. Two more ships will join later, he said, without elaborating.

The Dec. 26 quake — measured at magnitude 6.7 by Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau and 7.1 by the U.S. Geological Survey — snapped undersea cables off Taiwan, cutting telecommunications across the region and leaving companies scrambling to reroute traffic through satellites and cables that were not damaged.

Services were gradually restored in the days following the quake, but have not fully recovered.

Wu said one of the repair ships is Japanese registered and sailed to Taiwan from Japan. The other, British registered, sailed to Taiwan from the Philippines, he said. Both are specially equipped to repair undersea cables and had to complete other repair work before setting out for Taiwan.

In Hong Kong, Internet connection on the first working day of the year was about 70 percent to 80 percent back to normal Tuesday, an official said.

"There was no major congestion this morning. The situation is better than we thought," said Ha Yung-kuen of the Telecommunications Authority.

Residential Internet users will still experience some delays because service providers will give business users priority, he added. Internet connection in Hong Kong should be fully restored by mid-January, when repair works for the first of six damaged undersea cables serving the territory is expected to be complete.

By the end of January or early February, all major cables serving Hong Kong and other countries in the region should be fully repaired, said another official, Chan Tze-yee.

Asian data transmission lines, made of clusters of glass fibers wrapped in protective material, carry Internet data and voice calls as pulses of light.

Chunghwa Telecom estimates the repairs will cost about $1.5 million.

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