Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij

Singapore Infopedia


The Dutch founded Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) in 1888 as a regional shipping line in the Indonesian archipelago.1 At its height, KPM operated more than 140 ships ranging from small vessels of less than 50 tonnes to large passenger liners exceeding 10,000 tonnes. Its services extended from the Dutch East Indies to South Africa to the west, Australia to the east, and China to the north. Part of its fleet was based in Singapore.2

Early history
KPM was founded by Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland and Rotterdamsche Lloyd in 1888.3 Both companies had been operating regular steamship services between Holland and Java for almost 20 years, and they started KPM to form a feeder line for the home steamers.4 KPM took over the ship and lines from its predecessor, Nederlandsch-Indische Stoomboot Maatschappij (a subsidiary of the British India Steam Navigation Company), and commenced operations on 1 January 1891 with 29 small steamers – 13 new ones and 16 from the Nederlandsch-Indische Stoomboot Maatschappij.5

In the early 1900s, KPM lost two vessels in the Singapore Harbour. The Reijniersz was destroyed by fire on 23 January 1907, while the Djambi sank in 1909 after it collided with the Polynesien, a steamer owned by French shipping company Messageries Maritimes.6

KPM’s fleet expanded rapidly. With the increase in operations, the company set up an office at Nos. 2 and 3 Collyer Quay in 1914, and a service from Penang and Singapore to ports in China was started in 1916. By around 1920, KPM had 92 vessels that operated 50 services with about 300 ports of call. Two well-known fast steamers – Melchior Treub and Rumphius – ran the weekly service to Java and Sumatra, while 10 services connected Singapore and the Dutch East Indies with 84 ports of call.7

In 1931, the KPM Building was opened in the business district. By then, Singapore had become a key centre for KPM’s activities. Part of its fleet was based in Singapore, and its contribution to the maintenance of Singapore’s trade was recognised by the government.8

At the start of World War II, KPM’s fleet had grown to 146 vessels. It was operating more than 70 services with over 400 ports of call.9 Its services extended beyond the East Indies, with nine international routes to South Africa, Australia and China, as well as covering other countries like Indo-china, Mauritius, Thailand, New Zealand, Japan and Myanmar.10 It had grown into the second-largest Dutch steamship company and become synonymous with shipping in the Dutch East Indies.11

World War II and beyond
KPM lost about two-thirds of its fleet during World War II. The company attempted to rebuild its fleet after the war, but the rebuilding programme was overtaken by changes in the Indonesian political landscape.12

In 1957, KPM discontinued its inter-island trade in Indonesia due to changes in the political situation, and shifted its focus to international services. Then in 1966, it merged with Koninklijke Java China Paketvaart Lijnen to form Royal Interocean Lines.13

In 1970, Royal Interocean Lines and Nedlloyd Lines merged their offices in Singapore and became known as Interocean Lines (SEA) Pte. Ltd. The Royal Interocean Lines and the East Asiatic Company subsequently established Nedlloyd EAC Agencies Pte. Ltd. on 1 April 1972 to operate their shipping agency business in Singapore and West Malaysia. Nedlloyd EAC Agencies became one of the largest agency organisations in Southeast Asia.14


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Chan Fook Weng

1. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days (Singapore: International Chamber of Commerce, 1979), 203 (Call no. RSING 380.10655957 SIN); “How K.P.M. Links an Empire,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 203.
3. “Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij 1888–1967,” The Ship List, 31 May 2017.
4. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 203; Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 202. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
5. TheShipsList, “Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij 1888–1967”; “How K.P.M. Links an Empire”; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 202.
6. TheShipsList, “Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij 1888–1967”; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 202.
7. TheShipsList, “Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij 1888–1967”; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 202.
8. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 203.
9. “How K.P.M. Links an Empire”; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 203.
10. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 203; TheShipsList, “Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij 1888–1967.”
11. “How K.P.M. Links an Empire.”
12. TheShipsList, “Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij 1888–1967.”
13. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 203.
14. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 203, 205.

The information in this article is valid as at May 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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