The France Telecom-Orange cable ship the Chamarel caught fire last week as it returned from a repair operation on SAT3, an undersea cable off Namibia.

None of the 56 crew members was injured and all were rescued by a Namibian fishing vessel, according to France Telecom-Orange.

"This is a very serious incident, and I would like to express my since thanks to crew for their courage in managing the situation," said Thierry Bonhomme, the company's senior executive vice president in charge of networks, carriers and R&D.

The cause of the fire has not bee determined and the company said it would launch an investigation into the incident as soon as the ship has been recovered. The company will work with Namibian authorities to ensure minimal environmental impact during the recovery operation. Sat-3 cable, Africa's oldest cable runs under the Atlantic Ocean from West Africa to Southern Africa through to Europe.

There was no immediate impact on submarine cables in the area, which will continue to function normally, the company said, and it will work to manage scheduled maintenance operations over the coming days.

Any disturbance to the cable during the recovery of the ship would result in Internet outages in a number of African countries. The SAT-3 cable is Africa's oldest such cable and runs under the Atlantic Ocean from west Africa to southern Africa to Europe.

France Telecom-Orange currently operates six cable ships. Four of the vessels are dedicated to maintenance services in the Mediterranean basin, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Two other vessels specialize in laying new telecommunications submarine cable systems worldwide.