New Guinea Australia Line

Administrative / Biographical History

The China Navigation Company [CNCo] first became involved in the Papua New Guinea trade in 1939, when Yunnan took over the copra trade from the German company Nord Deutscher Lloyd, (now Hapag Lloyd) which had been banished from Allied territorial waters by the outbreak of World War II in Europe. In those early days, special boats were carried on board to lift copra directly from the beaches.

Needless to say, this service ceased with the start of the Pacific War, and CNCo did not re-enter the trade until December 1952, when an Australia-Papua New Guinea service was inaugurated as part of a long-term development plan to give the company an Australian base. This trade, together with that to the Solomons and New Hebrides, had previously been monopolised by the Australian line Burns Philp – then the largest operator in New Guinea – which also generated much of the cargo. However, the rapid post-war growth of trade between Australia and Papua New Guinea made room for an additional carrier.

The new service was given the ponderous title "New Guinea Australia Line of The China Navigation Company", widely known as NGAL. The general agent in Sydney was G.S. Yuill, (later Swire & Yuill), and the long-established trading group, Steamships Trading Company (today a Swire subsidiary) became CNCo’s agent at ports in the former Territory of Papua, with Colyer Watson acting as agent in the northern ports of New Guinea. (The two territories had been amalgamated under Australian jurisdiction in 1949 – eventually gaining full independence in 1975). Colyer’s was absorbed by Steamships Trading in 1962.

In January 1970 NGAL was registered in New Guinea as a private company on January 1st 1970 and opened its own training school at Port Moresby to teach basic seamanship skills. Selecting its trainees mainly from the Samarai region in southern Papua, where there was a strong seagoing tradition, the school was an outstanding success and Papuans gradually replaced Chinese crews on NGAL ships. This initiative was part of a general move towards localisation and in September of the same year, the New Guinea Australia Line Pty Limited was registered in Port Moresby – the shares being held equally by Swire and long-time associate, Ocean group; the ships continued to be owned by CNCo, but were chartered and operated by the local company.

There are large gaps in the records that are listed here, which primarily consist of some correspondence and board papers, though future accruals may be expected.

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