Construction of a tunnel linking Europe and Africa could begin within five years after Spain and Morocco agreed to a major engineering study of the Strait of Gibraltar.

The tunnel could be dug between Punta Paloma in southern Spain and Punta Malabata near Tangier in Morocco. It would run for 38.5 kilometres and would pass beneath the strait for 27 kilometres at a depth of about 300 metres.

The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow and turbulent stretch of water connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The shortest distance across is just 19 kilometres. But the seabed is so deep across this stretch that a tunnel would need to be dug at a depth of 900 metres.

Spain and Morocco agreed to conduct a detailed engineering survey to determine the feasibility of a tunnel. The Spanish transport ministry said 27m Euros ($33m) would be spent on the study but added that construction of the tunnel itself would begin no sooner than 2008.

“The final route and the depth of the tunnel will depend on the geological studies, which require a series of complex tests,” said a statement from the transport ministry.

The ministry has already built an experimental tunnel that is more than half a kilometre long. Core samples of the rock beneath the strait will be taken to develop a picture of its geology.

Like the Channel Tunnel, which links the UK and France beneath the English Channel, the new link would consist of two main tunnels linked by a smaller maintenance passageway. But the Channel Tunnel is slightly longer, covering 49 kilometres.

There are also plans to build a 54-kilometre tunnel through the mountains between Lyon, France and Turin, Italy by 2020. A 125-kilometre-long tunnel under the water between Taiwan and mainland China has also been proposed.
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