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War Economy

Transport of West Coast Coal

Transport of West Coast Coal

Some grades of bituminous coal, essential to gasworks and other industrial activities, were available in New Zealand only on the West Coast, and had to be moved from there by ship over bar harbours which were notoriously unreliable. Delays in getting ships out of West Coast harbours had been responsible for a number of crises in the supply of coal for the North Island in peacetime. The situation was aggravated by the general shortage of coastal shipping during the war. To assist in overcoming delays, the Minister of Mines called a conference in Wellington in February 1941, and a Coal Transport Shipping Committee was established to co-ordinate the efforts of shipowners, railways, waterside workers, seamen, mine owners, and others, with a view to ensuring that the transport available was used to best advantage and that coal supplies reached North Island industry with the least possible delay. Two local committees were also set up at Greymouth and Westport. These committees had very few meetings but helped to speed up arrangements for shipping coal out of the West Coast. Exports of coal from Greymouth more than doubled during the period 1938–39 to 1944–45, but exports from Westport declined. These figures were affected by the ease of working coal in the two areas, as well as by the efficiency of the transport arrangements. Overall, compared with before the war, there was an increase of about 150,000 tons a year in coal sent from West Coast ports to the North Island.

With the shortage of coastal shipping, the Railways Department became particularly vulnerable to any delay in access to West Coast harbours. The Department needed the better quality Westport coal, and its ability to cope with a delay in arrival of fresh supplies was reduced by its steadily diminishing coal stocks. In March 1939 the Department held 93,000 tons, but by 1943 stocks had diminished to 65,000 tons and fell to under 20,000 tons in 1944.

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