A Safer Path for Ships

Stad Ship Tunnel

The Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) has been given the green light to build the world’s first shipping tunnel designed to help vessels navigate the treacherous seas of northwest Norway. 

Built through a mountain in the Stadhavet peninsula, the tunnel will make the journey for ships safer, more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. It will also boost the region’s fishing industry. 

Waves can reach up to 30 meters (approximately 98 feet) in the Stad Sea and even after a storm has subsided rough waters can remain for days, making it difficult for boats to cross.

“The area outside this peninsula is very dangerous and stormy,” said Terje Andreassen, temporary project manager of the Stad Ship Tunnel at the NCA. “If you transport goods that have to be delivered at a certain time, you can't do that if you have to wait because it's too dangerous to cross.”

Fishing companies have lost revenue because they are unable to deliver their catch on time. It is also damaging to the environment when boats are forced to wait as it increases fuel consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. 

The new tunnel will create an express route between Bergen and Ålesund, making it easier to connect to the seafood-based communities of South Sunnmøre. The NCA expects about 81% of boats to be able to use the tunnel, with ships more than 16,000 gross tons (14,514 metric tonnes) being able to pass through.

At the same time, because the time it takes to travel between the cities will be cut by 50 minutes, the tunnel will reduce the amount of fuel vessels use. Impact assessments have found smaller vessel (approximately 40 meters or 131 feet) voyages will see a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions as fuel consumption decreases. Larger vessels will experience a 30% emission reduction.

How to Build a World First

The Stad Ship Tunnel has been a long time in the making. The NCA began planning the project decades ago and it was only late last year that it underwent its final quality assurance phase.

This involved creating a comprehensive picture of planning, construction, operation and cost estimates, as well as putting prerequisites in place to build and operate a safe efficient and sustainable tunnel.

“This is quite unique,” Andreassen said. “There isn’t a project like this in the world.”

The next phase will consist of putting a project organization in place as well as a tender, which invites companies to bid to construct the Stad Ship Tunnel. Overall, it is estimated to cost NOK 2.8 billion (US$3.2 billion), and the building is expected to start in the first half of 2022 and be completed in 2025 or 2026.

Because a tunnel like this has never been built before, the process of procuring a contractor tender is about finding someone with similar skills.   

The project is not expected to be any more challenging than building an ordinary tunnel, though the contractor will have to consider the problems associated with construction in a rural area where infrastructure will be a challenge.

“You have to transport equipment and machines by sea, because the roads are very small here and you can't drive big engines and big machines,” he said. “There is also a lot of rock we have to transport from the tunnel sites. You have to plan the infrastructure very well. You have to drill and blast this tunnel.”

The winning tender will need to blast approximately 8 million metric tonnes (88 million tons) of rock from the site. 

The tunnel will be 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) long, 37 meters (121 feet) high and 26.5 meters (87 feet) wide. Navigation aids will also be installed in the tunnel, including closed-circuit television and radar, to control the traffic in the tunnel. 

Landscape architect Snøhetta has already been commissioned to design the entrances of a new tunnel, which will center on blending in the natural environment with the passageway.

“The focus is on uncertainty management,” said Andreassen. “We often look for what could go wrong, and which signal do you catch to recognize that it exists and not working well and what tools do you have to make it better. When we finish the tunnel and the traffic can go through, it will be much safer for boats, but also more manageable.”