Coastal shipping for transport between ports and for fishing was inadequate for most of the war years.
There had been a decrease in the volume of coastal shipping in the immediate pre-war years. The trawling industry had declined, and the improvement in road and rail transport as a means of distribution of goods from the main ports of Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton and Port Chalmers had reduced the need for coastal shipping. The numbers of coastal vessels were further depleted during the war by the withdrawal of vessels for minesweeping, anti-submarine work, and other naval purposes. This depletion of coastal shipping had been foreseen by the Transport Committee, which was set up in March 1938 by the Organisation for National Security, but little could have been done about it. It was realised that naval demands for small vessels would have to be met largely by requisitioning existing craft, in spite of the fact that this would place a strain on available coastal shipping.
At the outbreak of war the Naval Board was given full powers to control or requisition coastal shipping.2 Several coastal vessels were taken in the first few weeks of war for conversion into examination vessels in ports. A limited number of other vessels was requisitioned in 1940 and 1941, but with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, there was an acceleration in the rate of requisitioning. From late in 1942 the United States authorities also made heavy demands for small vessels to be requisitioned or constructed in New Zealand for operations in the South Pacific.
The concentration of overseas shipping on the main ports, in order to reduce the time spent on the New Zealand coast, increased the demands on coastal shipping for transhipment work, while oil fuel shortages and consequent restrictions on road transport increased the pressure on coastal shipping as well as on the railways.
There was some scope to reduce the strain by better co-ordination between road, rail and sea transport; but little could be done about the inter-island trade, and here the shortage of coastal shipping became really restrictive. The position was most acute early in 1943, when coal and timber for transhipment from the South to the North Island began to pile up.page 404
The Commissioner of Defence Construction, in urgent need of extra timber from the South Island, pressed for the release of some of the vessels which had been requisitioned for naval work. His was not a lone voice. Release of vessels began late in 1943, as war operations in the Pacific moved further away from New Zealand, and continued through 1944 and 1945.
2 The Shipping Control Emergency Regulations of 1 September 1939.