Ship Registration: Law and Practice

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20.1 The Kingdom of Norway has one of the longest coastlines in the world, facing the North Sea from the Skagerrak in the south and extending north beyond the Arctic Circle. A glaciated, mountainous territory, its recent economic history owes much to the rich oil and gas reserves within its sphere of influence. The country has a constitutional monarchy and the legal system is a blend of customary law, civil and common law traditions. The national currency of Norway is the Krone (NOK). 20.2 Norway has a long-established maritime heritage, and is also one of the foremost remaining shipbuilding nations in western Europe. The Norwegian International Ship Register (NIS) is the country’s second register, launched in 1987, and the NIS fleet is now the 13th largest in the world by dead-weight tonnage.1 References to the Register throughout this chapter refer to NIS, not the domestic Norwegian ordinary register known as NOR. Since 2012, both the Norwegian ship registers (NIS and NOR) are administered by the Norwegian Maritime Authority’s Department of Ship Registration in Bergen. The NMA’s headquarters is located in Haugesund. In April 2017, the Norwegian Maritime Authority signed a joint memorandum of understanding with the Danish Maritime Authority and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore promoting the mutual recognition of electronic certificates under their respective flags for port entry and Port State Control inspections, as well as the sharing of information and experiences relating to issuance, use and acceptance of such certificates. The NIS appears within the top ten best-performing flag States in the 2017 Paris MOU White List.2

Sources of law

20.3 The registration of vessels in NIS is governed by the Act of 12 June 1987 No.48 establishing a Norwegian International Ship Register as amended up to the Act of 9 May 2014 No. 16 (‘the NIS Act’) and by the Norwegian Maritime Code of 24 June 1994 No.39 as amended up to the Act of 17 June 2016 No.71. Unless otherwise stated, all references to sections in this chapter are references to sections of the NIS Act. Ships registered in NIS fly the Norwegian flag and are subject to Norwegian jurisdiction (s.3).

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Vessel eligibility

Vessel type

20.4 Self-propelled passenger and cargo ships, hovercraft, drilling platforms and other moveable installations may be registered (s.1).

Age limits

20.5 Neither the Norwegian Maritime Code nor the NIS Act specify a maximum age of vessels which are permitted to be registered. Rather, the NIS requires a SOLAS certificate issued by an approved classification society or by the Norwegian Maritime Authority to be submitted with all applications for registration. This requirement establishes a basic minimum threshold of suitability and necessitates an independent assessment of a vessel’s construction, intended to deter the very oldest tonnage.


20.6 A vessel registered in NIS may be owned by Norwegian or non-Norwegian persons or companies. Section 1 of the NIS Act permits registration of vessels by non-Norwegian owners who have appointed a representative who satisfies the nationality requirements of the Maritime Code, and who is authorised to accept service of writs on behalf of the owner. The technical or commercial management must also be carried out by a Norwegian shipping company with its head office in Norway or by one of its management offices abroad. Non-Norwegian owners must submit a notarised and legalised certificate of registration, secretary’s certificate, or certificate of good standing which contains details of the name and type of company, registered office, share capital and appointed directors.

Bareboat charter registration

20.7 The NIS Act does not currently permit the ‘flagging-in’ or the ‘flagging-out’ of bareboat chartered vessels to or from the Norwegian flag.

Trading limits

20.8 Traditionally, vessels registered in NIS have not been permitted to carry cargo or passengers between Norwegian ports, which for this purpose include oil and gas installations on the Norwegian continental shelf (s.4). Separate regulations govern offshore vessels serving such installations. Nor have vessels registered in NIS been able to engage in regular scheduled passenger transport between Norwegian and foreign ports. At the beginning of 2016, these restrictions were relaxed to the following extent:
  • (1) Cargo ships are now permitted to carry cargo between ports on Svalbard and between Svalbard and the mainland.
  • (2) Cargo ships where a significant part of the ship’s activities takes place outside of Norwegian waters are permitted to carry cargo between Norwegian ports as

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    a part of a regular route between a Norwegian and a foreign port or as carriage of petroleum in bulk from a unit on the Norwegian continental shelf or occasionally for up to three months. The Norwegian Maritime Authority controls that the conditions are satisfied.
  • (3) Extension of trade area for special cargo ships: In addition to the trade area extension above, cargo ships constructed or equipped to carry special types of cargo are permitted to carry such cargo between Norwegian ports when the ship is en route to or from a foreign port and the carriage does not form part of a regular scheduled service. The Master must be a Norwegian national or a national of an EEA country. It is a condition that such carriage leads to a rational utilisation of the tonnage available, and does not involve undesirable consequences for ships registered in the Norwegian Ordinary Ship Register.
  • (4) Construction vessels are permitted to trade between Norwegian ports, including on the Norwegian continental shelf.

In this context, a construction vessel means any vessel engaged in construction activities, subsea operations, pipe laying or maintenance of units. The changes in trade areas for vessels in the NIS are connected to the strengthening of the current subsidy for employment of seafarers both for NIS and NOR ships in that, according to various models, the company will receive grants for payment of advanced tax deduction, social security contributions and payroll taxes.

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