Vietnam submerges part of first underwater tunnel

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After two years of construction and delays, the first 27,000-ton section of the Thu Thiem Tunnel was placed beneath the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City this week.

"The successful tow and immersion of the first section will give us more experience," said Nguyen Xuan Sang, acting chairman of the HCMC Port Authorities and also leader of the convoy that towed the section.

The first section of the tunnel linking HCMC's districts 1 and 2 was moved 22 kilometers from a construction site in the adjacent province of Dong Nai's Nhon Trach District by a water convoy that included four tugboats and 15 canoes on Sunday.

All other vessels had been banned from entering several sections of the Saigon, Nha Be and Soai Rap rivers that day as the convoy made its way to the location of the nearly 1.5- kilometer tunnel at Nha Rong Seaport.

After the six-hour journey, the section was submerged 12 meters under the Saigon River, or over 24 meters below sea level on Monday.

Three others will be towed and immersed one by one over the next three months.

The three-lane Thu Thiem Tunnel is scheduled for completion by the end of August, said Vuong Hoang Thanh, vice director of the East West Highway and Water Environment Project, which includes construction of the tunnel.

The VND2.2 trillion-plus (US$115.3 million) tunnel is slated to open to traffic next year, allowing vehicles to travel at 60 kilometers per hour. The tunnel has a life-expectancy of 100 years.

Launched in March, 2007, Thu Thiem Tunnel project was first expected to be completed at the end of 2008, but it was delayed when authorities found cracks in sections that were still under construction in June that year.

Japanese-owned contractor Obayashi Corporation didn't complete the repairs until this January.

Historic moment

Thousands of people crowded along the banks of the Saigon River to watch as the section was towed and pressed.

Many of them were people who had spent most of their life crossing the section of river by ferry-boat only.

Tran Van Hai, 80, who lives in District 2's An Khanh Ward, was one such person.

"I've crossed the Saigon River for 80 years. Now we've got the tunnel. This is too important, I can't stay at home," he said when asked why he had come out despite the heat and his old age.

Hai's neighbor, 60-year-old Ba Gia, also smiled and said: "In our time, we had to take detours, but now our descendants will have a shortcut to the city center."

Nguyen Thanh Tai, vice chairman of the HCMC People's Committee, the municipal government, said he was "extremely happy and extremely proud" to be supervising the first section's towing.

"It [Thu Thiem Tunnel] is not only significant in terms of scale but also complicated in terms of the techniques that we have used for the first time."

Nguyen Do, a chief engineer on the project, said he was proud that Vietnamese engineers and workers were in charge of all construction on the project.

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