Following their merger in October, the combined P&O and BI Company had some 600 staff on active service, half its fleet on war duty and the government mail services to maintain, in ever more challenging circumstances. Escalating costs of wages, coal and almost all supplies, coupled with a steep decline in the cargo trade and the allied loss of the port of Antwerp, made for a less than glowing bottom line.
The introduction of ‘war risks’ insurance had helped to restart sea trade but difficulties and delays in cargo loading, and the general uncertainty about cost and feasibility of replacing lost tonnage, meant that commercial conditions were far from easy. The building of all new ships was halted, while government needs took priority, and the Company’s own repairing docks in India were fully occupied in the work of converting merchant ships to troop transporters.
No corner of the Company’s business was shielded from the overwhelming needs of war. In Karachi even BI’s new office was offered to the Indian Government and converted into a 300-bed military hospital, considered to be one of the finest in the country.