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Steamships needed coal to run, and by the end of the nineteenth century Curaçao had become an important regional source for this fuel. Coal was imported from England on sailing ships and from the United States in steamers. The shipment was thrown onto the wharf and from there carried in baskets to the depots by local laborers known as coal heavers. While in port ships also restocked their food and water supplies. Special ferries brought the water from plantations around the Schottegat which, before the oil refinery took them over, were known for their excellent wells. "Due to its geographic location Curaçao was always a port of call for warships of all nations,"[41] which called to bunker fuel and stock supplies such as foodstuffs and water.

KWIM established the Curaçao Trading Company (CTC) in Amsterdam in 1890 to provision ships with water, coal and food; eventually CTC came to own 85% of the island's usable quay length. The local firm S.E.L. Maduro and Sons also acquired several wharves and soon established a niche in the bunkering market, offering cheaper American coal for fuel (as compared to CTC's pricier English coal). Within just a few years, thanks to S.E.L. Maduro & Sons, Curaçao had become a leading bunkering port in the Caribbean, a role which the island was able to maintain even when fuel oil from the refinery replaced coal. Soon many ships were calling just to bunker at Maduro's coal yard in Otrobanda, which they had bought from US Consul and businessman Leonard B. Smith in 1901. Maduro could supply up to 4000 tons of coal monthly to ships docking here; when this was not enough to meet demand, they expanded to several other wharves. In 1910 the water plant was completely overhauled as part of the plans for harbor improvement, so visiting ships could also be offered drinking water.

In 1900 Curaçao bunkered a total of 200 tons of coal; this increased astronomically to 54,000 tons by 1912 and reached 77,000 in 1927, the peak year.[42] Curaçao had became one of the Caribbean's major coaling stations and transshipment ports. The modern coaling station, which boasted electric lighting, also supplied warships, first those from the Netherlands and, in 1902, fifty-one warships from Germany, Italy and France that blockaded Venezuela.[43] Now ships were coming to the island in great numbers for something besides trade, and shipping thrived even in times of overall economic difficulties. Total tonnage increased from 644,038 metric tons in 1870 to 2,376,651 in 1910; of the latter, there were 319 steamships totaling 2,241,726 metric tons.[44]

Coal heaving was strenuous work, but it was an important source of employment for the unskilled lower classes in a time of economic difficulties. Both men and women hoisted heavy baskets ladened with coal right onto their heads, carrying it from the wharves to the depot. They were paid one cent per basket. Curaçao had a good reputation for rapid delivery, which increased business and, in turn, profits. The normal delivery rate was 100 tons/hour, soaring to 142 in 1910 and 174 in 1914.[45] There was an entire system to alert coal heavers about pending work: when Maduro received a telegram indicating a ship was coming to bunker they would hoist a single black ball onto a mast at the wharves if the ship was due in the following day; two black balls meant work the same day. The mast could be seen for miles around; locals kept a close eye on it throughout the day and the appearance of a ball or two was important news that spread quickly through the community.

The coal storage facilities on the privately owned wharves were gradually replaced by fuel oil bunkering installations in the early twentieth century. Warships began requesting lubricating oil as early as 1902; after World War One, fuel oil began to replace coal for cargo ships as well. In 1919 S.E.L. Maduro & Sons became the island agent for Standard Oil of New Jersey; in 1920 Maduro built two oil storage tanks above Motet Wharf. The refinery also delivered fuel oil directly from its own wharves and soon edged out Maduro. Coal, however, remained important; in 1926 Maduro bunkered 77,071 tons of coal. Mechanical bunkering replaced the coal heavers around 1921; by then, however the refinery was becoming a major source of employment and the loss of this back-breaking manual labor was not a concern. In 1961 a modern oil bunkering plant was built at Brion and Motet wharves.

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