Calcutta

India, once an important exporter through its eastern port of Calcutta, now requires internally all the coal it can produce and is an important customer for Australian coal, which is usually transported to India in ships fitted with self-discharging capabilities to overcome inadequate port facilities on the sub-continent. The future of coal is reasonably bright despite its main disadvantage when compared with oil as a primary fuel in that the transportation of coal from source to consumer is more complex. To this must be added the need for more sophisticated appliances for burning it (many power stations have to grind coal to fine dust before putting it into the furnace) and then there is an ash disposal problem. Nevertheless, coal is obtainable from so many different areas that it cannot be used as a political weapon as we have seen happen with oil. Coal is usually brought to the loading port in rail wagons then loaded via a chute or conveyor. Discharging is normally by shore cranes equipped with grabs. Much thought is devoted to speeding up the handling process and self-unloading carriers may be one answer but they are, by their very nature, of higher capital value and thus we are back again to cost. It may well be that experiments with transportation in slurry form, or other methods of liquifying coal may be successful and permit tankers to carry coal, although there are many problems to be overcome before this will be commonplace, if ever. It is not possible to generalise on methods of inland transportation of coal either prior to shipment or after delivery although, in view of the large quantities handled, probably rail or canal transport will be utilised. Like so many bulk commodities, one major problem is that of storage space and, since land in industrial areas tends to be expensive, it is usually vital that such space is kept to a minimum. This necessitates an efficient system of co-operation between the mines, inland transport, the loading facilities and ship owner, perhaps being more vital in respect of coal industry than any other. It is, in fact, generally supposed that the expression “subject stem” originates from the coal trade, when it became necessary first to secure a ship on this “subject” before finalising the whole operation to provide that vessel with her cargo.