HC Deb 23 May 1898 vol 58 cc365-7
SIR C. CAYZER (Barrow-in-Furness)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that all ocean liners and steamers trading to South Africa and the East drawing up to 21 feet of water have for some time past regularly taken their supplies of coal alongside the wharf at Durban; that vessels of any draft can be coaled from lighters in the outer anchorage; and that the quality of the coal produced in Natal is well reported on; and whether Her Majesty's ships on the Cape Station will in future coal at Natal instead of taking coal from elsewhere at a greatly increased cost.?


I beg at the same time to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether it has been brought to his notice that the Natal Government has recently been spending large sums in dredging the port of Durban, with such satisfactory results that the bar depth has been maintained at an average depth of 19 feet 2 inches at low water of springtides, and of 24 feet 2 inches at high water, during the past six months; and whether, seeing the great value of Durban to the Empire as the outlet for the immense coal-bearing areas of Natal and Zululand, he will reconsider the advisability of converting the port of Durban into an Imperial coaling station?


I beg also to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that during the years 1896 paid 1897 vessels drawing over 21 feet of water used the Natal Harbour, and that there is frequently 25 feet at high water spring tides; that the Admiral in command of the Cape station has telegraphed to the Colonial Government of Natal for 2,000 tons of free coal to be sent to Simons Bay, and that in future all Her Majesty's ships under his command going eastward will coal at Port Natal; and whether, in view of the patriotic gift of 12,000 tons of coal per annum promised by the Colony of Natal, and the strategical importance of Port Natal as a coaling station, the Admiralty will reconsider its decision against converting the port into an Imperial coaling station?


Her Majesty's Government appreciate the patriotic gift of 12,000 tons of coal annually from the Government of Natal, and propose to take advantage of it as far as possible; but a regular systematised use of the port for coaling accessibility and safety are primary considerations. It is perfectly true that during the past year or two ships of 21 feet have passed safely into Durban, but the variations of depth on the bar, which is a constantly shifting one, are still so considerable, notwithstanding the steady improvement of recent years, that it cannot yet be stated with confidence that a vessel of this draught will find sufficient depth at all times. Work, which it has taken months of dredging to carry out, may be rendered useless by a short spell of heavy weather from the east. Vessels when once over the bar can coal from wharves. Owing to the difficulty in obtaining Welsh coal, in consequence of the present strike, the Commander-in-Chief availed himself of the offer of the Natal Government, and did make a request recently that 2,000 tons of coal should be sent to Simons Town, Her Majesty's Government paying the freight. He has also arranged for Her Majesty's ships to call at Durban for coal whenever practicable. Her Majesty's ships have for many years coaled in the outer roads of Natal, and the great improvement of the port now enables the smaller vessels to take coal within its shelter. The works still in hand give reason to hope that the port will steadily improve. With the immense number of works already in progress, and the pressing suggestions from various Colonies and from seaports at home as to similarly utilising their ports, it is impossible to give any pledge at this stage as to the particular works which may be next taken in hand.


Will the question be again considered when there is sufficient water at the bar?


May I ask whether the Admiralty are aware that several lines of steamships—including the Castle, the Union, the Aberdeen, the Clan, and the King lines—use the Port of Natal as a coaling station, and that 30,000 tons of coal is the monthly output for coaling the mercantile marine at that port? Will he also explain what the grounds are on which it is stated that after 24 hours' bad weather the port is inaccessible over the bar?


Perhaps my honourable Friend will give notice of that Question.