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the River Shipping Company of Cochinchina, story of a monopoly - 3/3

Le Cambodge sunk in 1904, 115 lives lost. image:

Power and neglect

The adventure and passion for the river must have dwindled with the advent of the later contracts: in 1914, no question of a 20-years monopoly anymore, and the terms were tightened so much as to turn the Messageries essentially into an administration.1) Between the ebb and flow of the Mekong, the lack of diligence of the officers in charge and insufficient infrastructures, The Messageries, went on neglecting their duties until the outrage flared in the late 20s.

Power and neglect

Report to the Minister on the operations of the Messageries, 1914

The beautiful report to the Minister that paved the way to the tightening of the Messageries's contract. It speaks of slack, of missed connections, and of lack of enthousiasm. There again we hear of the steamer named Bassac, trading in 1914 between Phnom Penh and Kratie. PDF, in French, (c) Kyoto University
About a paved road along Khôn island, built less than 10 years before: “M. le Résident Supérieur p.i. en marge du rapport sur la province de Bassac: Il est certain que c'est l'esprit de suite qui a le plus manqué au Laos. Il semble que les routes faites aient cessé d'intéresser M. Mahé -et c'est ici le cas- dès l'instant où elles étaient terminées. Aujourd'hui la chaussée est envahie par l'herbe, les ponts sont effondrés et la machine complètement rouillée sera très difficile à remettre en état.”
Mr. the interim Superior Resident in the margin of the report on the province of Bassac: Surely the spirit of continuity is what lacked most in Laos. It seems that roads, once built, ceased being of interest to Mr. Mahé -and this is the case here- as soon as they were complete. Today the pavement is overgrown with weeds, the bridges have collapsed and the rusted out engine is going to be very hard to put back in order.“

Then the Compagnie Saïgonnaise de Navigation et de Transport (C.S.N.T.)2) and based in Saigon, the Messageries steeply increased the river transportation fares in 1926, once the contracts had been secured for a new period, thus opening wide the way for Siamese (Thai) competition, anchoring their bad name with the residents of Laos, and firing outrage in the metropole.

Laotian society's indictment of the CNST. If you care for some reading, here is the whole article (in French)

The indictment by the Laotian business society of the acts of the C.S.N.T in 1928, in Economic Awakening. “The river transport monopoly is trying to strangle Laotian trade” PDF, in French, (c) University of Kyoto

The business became essentially a conglomerate: the capital of the Messageries was invested into as diverse sectors as plantation and transformation of rubber, the Comptoirs Généraux de l'Indochine (general commercial venture, state-sponsored), public works and electricity, sawmills and the Crédit Foncier de l'Indochine, a bank.3)

The C.N.S.T. was eventually sold in 1938 to the Société de Chalandage et Remorquage de l’Indochine (River shipping and Tugging company of Indochina).


But… still to be continued with: A Steamer Named Bassac!

The full article, with references and a bibliography, is in our pages: a XIXth Century Bassac.
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