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Fast planning and smooth cooperation were needed for LNG terminal

Published 28.12.2022

Preparing for the arrival of an LNG terminal vessel in Finland after Christmas was a daunting challenge for the maritime shipping experts of the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA). The gas ship, which will anchor in Inkoo, is a very big vessel for the channel to accommodate, and therefore, safe year-round passage to the terminal vessel had to be ensured also for the ships that deliver the fuel. The preparations needed to be ready in a few months to ensure adequate gas supplies to secure energy production for Finland.

“We were not able to make big alterations to the shipping lane because they would have required a process set in the Water Act, with permit applications and administrative consultations (with landowners, for example) to enact improvements to the channel, and there was not enough time for that. We had to think of more flexible solutions and to examine how the terminal vessel and the transport needed to fill it could reach the destination in the harbour”, says Olli Holm, a leading specialist for sea lane maintenance at FTIA.  

“We understood immediately that good cooperation was the only way to advance such a project. Many actors were needed: Gasgrid, which owns the terminal, The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom, Finnpilot, the towage company Alfons Håkans, and the port of Inkoo. Communications were very intensive”, says Jarkko Toivola, Chief Maritime Specialist at FTIA.

Many challenges confronted the project. The channel to Inkoo is only about 150 metres wide, and as the breadth of LNG vessels can be up to 50 metres, the channel does not have much space to spare. The port of Inkoo is also somewhat cramped for this type of vessel which can measure as much as 300 metres in length. The method of bringing a terminal vessel to its destination is also exceptional in Finnish conditions. 

“Four tugboats steer the ship to its destination, and Finland lacks experience for something like that. Usually there are only two tugboats. In addition, in the last two kilometres to the harbour, the ship must go in reverse. The reaction time of large vessels is also very long. We worked on solving these challenges through the summer”, says Holm, describing how the project progressed. 

Changes in channel signs and symbols

Drafts for new channel signs and symbols were quickly implemented, with the goal of finding a functional solution quickly. Channel markings had to be visible to both LNG vessels whose bridge is at a height of about 45 metres and to tugboats, whose bridge was at a height of about 10 metres. Available space in the channel must also be visible to all vessels to enable them to take full advantage of the space.  

Tugboat captains, harbour pilots, and Traficom worked together on finding solutions. Trial runs were held and various signs and symbols were evaluated at the Aboa Mare simulator in Turku. After that, it was back to the worktable, for new tests. A shared vision was eventually reached on how it would all work out. 
The signs in the channel and the harbour were altered by adding daylight routes and floating signs to the channel and the harbour to show how much space was available to LNG vessels and tugboats.  A weather station as well as visibility and water flow indicators were installed in the channel to ensure that local conditions were safe in the most challenging parts of the channel.  

In the autumn the FORCE simulator in Denmark was used for testing based on the plans, focusing on matters including practise operations and mastering exceptional situations. Both pilots and tugs took part in the tests.  

“This is a magnificent example of multilateral cooperation which enabled the perfection of infrastructure for the benefit of society quickly and at a reasonable cost.  The further development of the Inkoo channel will also be examined based on these experiences”, says Jarkko Toivila, describing the results of the project.  

Read more about the floating LNG terminal (Gasgrid) 
Further information:  
Head of FTIA Maritime Unit Jarkko Toivola, tel. +358 29 5343046, [email protected] 

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