Under the sea.
Transport Magazine

Under the sea.

Unique worldwide: An underwater roundabout connects two islands of the Faroe Islands.

The company Poul Michelsen supplies food to the Faroe Islands on a daily basis. Since 2020, the company’s journeys have been significantly shortened – a spectacular tunnel connects the two largest islands in the archipelago.

“Kanska” – “maybe”: Anyone visiting the Faroe Islands will hear this short word very often.“When we get up in the morning, we often only know what we will ‘maybe’ be doing that day,” says Poul Michelsen. The reason is as trivial as it is elemental: The weather in the middle of the North Atlantic can thwart many a plan. “A sunny morning can be followed by a stormy mid‑morning and a foggy afternoon,” says Michelsen. Yet the 77‑year‑old has been in a business for almost 50 years that has difficulty dealing with “maybe”: The company PM which he founded supplies food products to supermarkets, shops, restaurants and ships.

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Poul Michelsen, founder of P/F Poul Michelsen.
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Dry and safe under the sea: Driver Hanus Egholm on the road in the Eysturoy Tunnel.
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Experience: The roundabout features a lighting installation and a steel sculpture.
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Wind and waves: Wind and weather rule the coastal roads.

PM is also responsible for ensuring that dairy products are delivered by 11 am every day. “Dairy products have a shorter shelf life than other food products,” says Poul Michelsen. “Our customers expect them fresh every day and as early as possible.” For example, in the town of Klaksvik, in the northeast of the archipelago. “Depending on the season, such a journey took up to three hours,” reports Poul Michelsen. Driver Hanus Egholm has known the route for 22 years: “In the beginning there was even a crossing by ferry so I had to set out even earlier – and it was uncertain whether the ferry would actually go.” Since last year, drivers and trucks have made the journey in around 50 minutes thanks to an ambitious infrastructure project called the Eysturoy Tunnel.

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The Eysturoy Tunnel.

Unpredictable weather hampers the movement of goods between the two largest islands of the Faroe Islands: Streymoy and Eysturoy. The Eysturoy Tunnel brings relief. Completed by means of a drill‑and‑blast method, it stretches around 11 kilometres and has a gradient of up to five percent. More than a million cubic metres of rock were moved for the tunnel. During the two‑year construction period, 138,000 truck journeys were needed to remove the material. Then it was time for the expansion: Among other things, 40,000 cubic metres of shotcrete were processed and around 150 kilometres of cable were laid.

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metres below sea level is the lowest point of the Eysturoy Tunnel.

“We want to be prepared for everything,” says Michelsen. “That’s why we have only had Mercedes‑Benz in our fleet since 1974.” There are currently 12 models from the Arocs and Actros series that are replaced regularly. “The trucks stay in the fleet for around six years, which means that on average we get a new Mercedes‑Benz truck every 1.5 years,” says Michelsen, who uses the 3263 variant in his Arocs – the top engine. “The terrain and roads are challenging, so we need power and at the same time the best available brakes.” Together, the trucks cover around 1,000 kilometres a day. That doesn't sound like much for non‑Faroe Islanders, but locals know about the island’s geographical and meterological conditions. “We need the best equipment we can get,” says Michelsen.

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The PM fleet also supplies supermarkets throughout the Faroe Islands.

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“For more than 40 years, we have only been using Mercedes‑Benz trucks.”

Poul Michelsen, founder of P/F Poul Michelsen
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Variety: The PM trucks start their journeys in the central warehouse in the capital Tórshavn.
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Most of the food is imported, mainly from Denmark but also from Iceland.
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Ice cold: The frozen products are stored at PM at -20 degrees Celsius.

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Locally produced: Like the other dairy products, the butter comes directly from the Faroe Islands.

Born in Tórshavn, the island's capital, he decided to sell food early on. The famous story of the start‑up in the garage – Michelsen experienced it, even though in his case it was the basement that initially served as an office and warehouse for him, his wife and two employees. The company has long since expanded significantly. “When I started there were only two food categories on the island: fresh produce and dried goods. But I wanted diversity,” says Michelsen, getting up and taking the stairs towards the warehouse.

Forklift trucks race around, employees pick deliveries of fruit, refrigerated and frozen goods – a typical scene in food logistics. Just 700 kilometres off the Norwegian coast, in the middle of the North Atlantic. “Twice a week we get two 40‑foot containers of fresh food and chilled products,” Michelsen says. And here it's necessary to add: “When the ships are on schedule.”

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Two generations: Poul Michelsen and his daughter Poula Michelsen in front of the headquarters in Tórshavn.
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The PM fleet includes 17 Mercedes‑Benz trucks from the Arocs and Actros series.
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The Eysturoy Tunnel is the third and youngest tunnel to provide a reliable connection between the islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy, regardless of the weather. At the deepest point, you have to be about 189 metres below the surface of the Atlantic. The implementation of the islands' largest infrastructure project to date cost the equivalent of 360 million euros.

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vehicles pass through the Eysturoy Tunnel every day.

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Poul Michelsen uses every opportunity to exercise outdoors.
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The Faroe Islanders.

More than 52,000 Faroe Islanders live on the islands and the population is growing. This is ensured by a high birth rate, newcomers from Denmark and Faroe Islanders who return home after years abroad. Around 42,000 registered vehicles (of which around 4,700 are trucks as of 2021) are a sign of distinct individual mobility. The majority of jobs are concentrated in and around the capital Tórshavn. The tunnel shortens the journey time from there to the island of Eysturoy by 30 minutes. This makes the towns there particularly attractive for commuters.

“A powerful engine and perfect brakes – the Arocs 3263 is ideal for our requirements. ”

Poul Michelsen
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An Arocs belonging to PM on the road on the island of Streymoy. The island of Vágar can be seen in the background.
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Sheep characterise the agriculture of the Faroe Islands. There are a total of around 80,000 in the archipelago.
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Suddenly white: Snow is always to be expected.

The archipelago of the Faroe Islands consists of 18 islands, mostly connected by ferries. There is also a bridge – this construction is too exposed to the forces of nature to be a serious alternative. Some islands, on the other hand, can only be reached by helicopter. The flights are even affordable. “However, you need to be able to endure a lot,” says Michelsen. “The helicopters also fly in weather that really shakes passengers.”

The new tunnel is more comfortable – and at the same time offers a globally unique attraction: Here, deep below the sea, traffic rolls through a roundabout. Not just anywhere, but at the geographical centre of the archipelago. The Faroe Islanders have understood how to turn it into an experience: The roundabout is atmospherically illuminated by an installation by artist Tróndur Patursson. Part of the staging is also an 80‑metre‑long steel sculpture, which shows life‑size figures as silhouettes. Patursson thereby picks up a tradition of the Faroe Islanders: Hundreds of people hold hands and run into the light from darkness.

A thought that Poul Michelsen can also gain a lot from. “This shows that we can implement great ideas if we work together to achieve them,” says the Faroe Islander, who was active not only as an entrepreneur, but also as an athlete. As much as “maybe” determines the everyday life of the Faroe Islanders – when developing and realising ideas they seem to prefer a different word: “definitely”.

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A steel sculpture by the artist Tróndur Patursson highlights the centre of the roundabout.
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A steel sculpture by the artist Tróndur Patursson highlights the centre of the roundabout.
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Photos: Sebastian Vollmert
Video: Martin Schneider‑Lau