Story: Shipping

Page 8. Post-war boom

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The conference lines rebuild

The war had devastated the conference lines’ fleets. Wartime standard ships filled some gaps, but the lines had to order whole fleets of new, specially designed ships, such as the New Zealand Shipping Company and Federal’s eight huge Haparangi class of 1947–49. In 1949 the smaller Port Auckland turned many heads with its 12,000 tons of streamlined superstructure and funnel. By the early 1960s the fleets had been completely rebuilt. Ship speed increased, from an already fast 17 knots to 21 knots by the 1960s, and on some vessels deck cranes replaced conventional derricks. But these were only refinements. The big changes came with the advent of containers in the 1970s.

By then Britain’s entry into Europe was also reducing the importance of the UK run. The conference lines had been an all-British club until the 1960s, when the old lines admitted Dutch, French, German, Italian and later Russian and Yugoslav lines, giving each a small share of the trade. The air was now filled with talk of new ship types – roll-on, roll-off (RORO), side-loading pallet ships and container ships. The cargo trade was about to change.

Passenger ships

The passenger trade changed more drastically. After the war the government chartered a few old ships to bring out assisted British migrants. The most famous were the Captain Hobson and the Captain Cook. The Shipping Company built new Rangi-class liners – larger, single-funnel versions of its earlier trio - and refurbished the older survivors, but in 1955 Shaw Savill brought in the stylish and innovative Southern Cross. This was the first big liner with the funnel aft (keeping smoke clear of the decks); the near-absence of masts and derricks also showed that she was a pure passenger ship – the only cargo was mail and passenger baggage. In keeping with the more egalitarian times, her 1,160 passengers were all one class. The slightly bigger Northern Star followed, just as long-range passenger jets started to take business away. The New Zealand Shipping Company pulled out of the passenger business in 1968 and Shaw Savill did so in 1975. Almost everyone now travelled by air.

Goodbye to all that

The end of the passenger shipping service to and from Britain meant the end of an important farewelling ritual on New Zealand wharves. When a ship sailed to Britain, often carrying young New Zealanders on ‘OE’ (overseas experience), there would be crowds on the wharf, bands playing ‘Now is the hour’, and streamers thrown from the deck to friends and relatives below.

Indian summer on the coast

The short-sea trades prospered after the war. For the Tasman Sea service, the Union Steam Ship Company built 3,700–4,500-ton capacity general cargo carriers. For its coastal services, it built 2,500-ton colliers (coal ships). The coastal trade in general cargo was shared out between the Northern Steam Ship Company and the Union Company’s subsidiaries, the Anchor, Holm, Canterbury and Richardson companies. They built modern, more flexibly sized 800–1,200-ton motor coasters.

Cook Strait link

This Indian summer was short-lived. The coal trade fell away in the 1960s and the general cargo trade shrank after the government put the first Railways Department RORO rail and car ferry on the run between Wellington and Picton in 1962. The 4,000-ton Aramoana finally linked the rail and road systems of the two islands. More rail ferries followed. These new ships and some smart link-ups with freight forwarders (firms which bought space on rail wagons at bulk rates and sold it to small clients) enabled the railways to undercut shipping by offering clients a faster, cheaper and more flexible service. Bulk cargo – cement and oil – still went by sea, but by the mid-1970s the conventional coastal trade was almost dead, and with it ports such as Ōamaru (last ship 1974), Raglan (last ship 1981) and Whanganui (virtually reduced to bulk cement). In 1968 the Wellington–Lyttelton passenger ferry, the Wahine, sank in Wellington Harbour with the loss of 51 lives. Eight years later the remaining overnight ferry, the Rangatira, withdrew, clobbered by the double whammy of rail ferry and airline competition.

How to cite this page:

Gavin McLean, 'Shipping - Post-war boom', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/shipping/page-8 (accessed 27 September 2017)

Story by Gavin McLean, published 12 Jun 2006, updated 1 Jan 2016