Rehabilitation

On June 10, 1945, troops of the Australian 9th Division occupied Labuan Island. Within 11 days, they had landed on the mainland and liberated Miri and Seria. They were met by a scene of devastation-blazing wells, demolished buildings and wrecked installations. Amidst all this stood Kiat Siang's humble little petrol kiosk on River Road, almost totally intact. (It has since been lifted by a Company crane to the Malay School compound by the Miri Mosque and now serves as the school tuckshop). The main task then was to resume oil production.


Although hostilities ceased on the 2nd September, some of the Japanese forces, a few miles behind Miri, did not capitulate until much later. Nevertheless, work had to go, bringing the burning wells under control and clearing away the debris. Progress was handicapped by lack of equipment and material, especially of transport units and such items as welding sets.

The rehabilitation of the Miri and Seria fields was carried out with assistance of the Australian Army engineers. To blanket the flames, steam was rasied in some handy Japanese boilers, and played on the wells. In many cases, the Japanese had dug pits around the well-heads and these had filled with flaring oil, making it difficult to approach. Naturally many men were needed for the fire-fighting operations. Those Company workers who had remained behind during the war were obvious candidates for the job. After a hectic five years of doing office or oilfield work during the day, planting padi in the evenings, and attending daily physical training and Japanese language sessions, they were no doubt more than a little relieved to find out that now they no longer had to work more than six hours a day. They were paid 30 cents a day and spared the obligation to keep themselves physically and linguistically fit. Many Mirians had fled to the jungle - "pergi masuk hutan"; they were encouraged to come out by means of friendly aircraft dropping leaflets with news of the liberation.

By September 1945 all the fires were out. Attention now turned to clearing up the general mess, repairing the storage tanks, the main trunkline between Seria and Lutong and the sea-loading facilities. The only equipment available was borrowed from the army. However, by Novemeber that year the Army were able to evacuate the oilfield areas. The first storage tank in Lutong was satisfactorily repaired and tested, and on Decemeber 11, oil began to flow again in the Seria-Lutong pipeline.

It was not until October 1946 that any appreciable output was achieved. At the end of the month, nearly 6,000 barrels were produced. By the end of the year, the rehabilitation staff were looking back with satisfaction on twelve months of very substantial progress, inspite of the stark living conditions they had had to endure. Food was scarce and cigerettes, tabacco and drinks were supplied through army-ration basis. Tinned food was received in reasonable quantities from Austrialia, but was, for some time, a serious shortage of dairy produce. The health situation was never good, the incidence of malaria being quite high.

Not only was the field staff having to work with makeshift equipment, they also relied heavily on supplies of essential materials. Thus when a scheduled shipment of cement for drilling work failed to arrive in August 1946, the first serious setback in field operations occured and the regular programme had to be temporarily suspended.

By the end of August, 1946, the immediate programme of post-war reconstruction may be said to have been completed. The month previously, the first well drilled at Miri since the Japanese withdrawal, was completed at 3,346 feet with a regular production of 420 barrels per day. Having set the field back on its feet, it was now possible to allocate a little time to other work that had been given low priority during the rehabilitation period. The rebuilding of the Lutong refinery and the testing and replacement of sea-lines had of course, been going on concurrently with the resuscitation of the oil wells. Now, roads were repaired, accommodation for staff extended and workshops and repair shops re-equipped. Many difficulties had still to be contended with. There remained a shortage of labor which at times caused serious problems and the food situation, although greatly improved over the previous years, still left much to be desired. There were transportation worries, and deliveries were still far from regular.

However one major change to pre war days was the move from Miri to Seria of Shell's exploration and production headquarters from North West Borneo arising from the realization that Seria Field was a million barrel oilfield and the only one in North West Borneo, that the Miri Field was declining and that in spite of extensive and costly exploration, no new oilfields had been found in Sarawak. The refinery remained in Lutong as a facility for both Miri and Seria.

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