KONINKLIJKE PAKETVAART MAATSCHAPPIJ
The 31st March 1958 may not mean much to many of you. But it is a very historical day in the annals of the K.P.M. It is a day also important in the history of Holland.
It is the day that the ships of the KPM left Indonesian ports for the last time.
It was in January 1891 that the company started regular services in the Indian Archipelago. It was with its first ship, the Camphuys that it all began.
We begin to understand how important these services were when we look at a map of Indonesia and realise that it consists of some 3000 islands.
Shipping services in such a large area were of supreme importance, not only to commerce but also for the movement of passengers.
Very shortly after the forming of the company some 13 ships were being built by Dutch shipbuilders.
In 1906 a period of rapid expansion started. The company expanded its services outwards from the Indonesian Islands. Between 1906 and the end of WW1 the fleet doubled in size from 62,000 Bruto Registered Tonnes (BRT) to 147,000 BRT.
The ships like the Houtman and the Tasman for the Java-Australia line. Each more than 5000brt with cooling installations for beef, butter and fruit. Also the speedy steamer Melchior Treub with all the imaginable comfort for passengers was put into service.
The Java Siam service was born to make sure Java had sufficient rice.
Many other lines were opened to exploit opportunities as they became available.
Java-Deli Line, a service to Western Australia, the Deli-Straits-China Line.
As I mentioned earlier rice was imported to Java, but other important products such as rubber, tobacco, tin, palm-oil, copra to name just a few, were important for the KPM.
To oversee such a large wide spread organisation offices were opened all over the archipelago and beyond.
Also to house personnel the Logeergebouw came into being as well as a Zeevaarttechnische school.
After WW1 the expansion continued. Soon it became necessary to have a Central Head Office in Batavia. At Tandjong Priok at the Kali Mati the Technical Services had their own workshops where electrical machinery could mould copper parts. There were also well equipped smithing shops, boiler making shops, plate working shops, welding works, all with a staff of well trained technicians. Carpenters and painters were available. In total some 1500 workers were employed at this service which regularly had 8 to 12 ships in repair. The 1st and 2nd KPM harbours came into being at that time as well. And the 3rd so-called Binnen haven (Inner Harbour)
By 1939 the KPM had 129 ships with a total tonnage of 307,847 brt not counting the JCJL with 94,885 brt. It had become the largest shipping company of The Netherlands.
Ships of the KPM were seen from Cape Town to Mombassa in Africa. This included Madagascar and the Seychelles and other Indian Ocean Islands which were regularly visited. In the Pacific we were known from Shanghai to Singapore. Also in Ceylon, Bangkok and Saigon. Port Villa, Noumea, Auckland, Wellington and most Australian Ports.
All was going splendent till 10th May 1940. That was when WW2 started for The Netherlands.
A short time later the war came to Indonesia and the ships of the KPM were all put on a war footing as Navy ships. Many served with distinction in war zones as far apart as the Mediterranean and the Pacific. A few survived and continued in the KPM service after the war. Others were used as repatriation ships.
The Boissevain among them. The losses for the KPM were massive. Almost 60 ships were lost and with it 477 personnel lost their lives.
After the war in a relative short time the KPM was carrying on as before albeit with fewer ships. Among other changes was the emergence of the K.J.C.P.L. (or R.I.L). as an independent company.
New ships were ordered and were put into service together with a number of small coasters. The Be and Ta ships as all their names began with those few letters. Also a short time later followed the Ka and Wai ships.
But by 5thDecember 1957 the situation became critical. The Indonesian Government, in, what I believe was an act of Piracy, stopped all KPM ships from leaving their respective ports. They put armed guards on board and treated all Dutch personnel as virtual prisoners on board of their own ships. A period of negotiations followed in which insurance companies played an important roll.
Finally the chained ships were allowed to leave under the understanding that they would never operate in Indonesian waters again.
In convoy these ships went to Singapore and with this exodus a proud history of shipping came to an end. Also it was an end to almost 400 years of Colonial Hegemony. This is now 50 years ago.
I am still a KPMer at heart and will not ever forget the time I was part of the tradition of a very special shipping company.
26Th April 2008