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This book is open access under a CC BY NC ND 4.0 license.

This open access book discusses how Norwegian shipping companies played a crucial role in global shipping markets in the 20th century, at times transporting more than ten per cent of world seaborne trade. Chapters explore how Norway managed to remain competitive, despite being a high labour-cost country in an industry with global competition. Among the features that are emphasised are market developments, business strategies and political decisions

The Norwegian experience was shaped by the main breaking points in 20th century world history, such as the two world wars, and by long-term trends, such as globalization and liberalization. The shipping companies introduced technological and organizational innovations to build or maintain a competitive advantage in a rapidly changing world.

The growing importance of offshore petroleum exploration in the North Sea from the 1970s was both a threat and an opportunity to the shipping companies. By adapting both business strategies and the political regime to the new circumstances, the Norwegian shipping sector managed to maintain a leading position internationally.

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Open Access

1. A Brief Introduction to Norwegian Shipping

During the 20th century Norway became one of the wealthiest countries in the world. At the same time, Norwegian shipping companies remained competitive in international seaborne transport—perhaps the world’s most global industry. Tenold explains Norwegian competitiveness in international shipping by analyzing the development at four different levels: the international, the national, the regional and the shipping company level. For more than 150 years Norwegian ships and shipping companies have played an important international role, transporting cargoes between foreign countries. On average, the Norwegian share of the world fleet in the 20th century has been around 6 per cent.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

2. The Starting Point: A Small Country, but a Major Maritime Nation

At the start of the 20th century Norway had the fourth largest merchant fleet in the world. The fleet served customers all over the world. Tenold uses three elements to explain the strong Norwegian position in global shipping in 1900: geography, history and culture. Norway has Europe’s longest coastline, and depends on the sea for transport and resources. Experience of difficult local waters was important when the oceans were liberalized after 1850. Norway’s maritime traditions, helped by a trust-based and egalitarian culture, channelled large investments into shipping through part ownerships [partsrederier].
Stig Tenold

Open Access

3. The First World War: The Neutral Ally

The high demand for seaborne transport during the First World War, combined with Norwegian neutrality, created a boom for Norwegian shipping. Although Norway was neutral, the country had to balance the need to keep supply lines from Great Britain open, without angering the Germans too much. Freight rates increased enormously, ship prices and share prices followed suit, and there was a speculative fever in Norwegian shipping. Norway lost large amounts of ships and seafarers to German submarine warfare. Tenold contrasts the dramatic conditions affecting Norwegian seafarers during the First World War with the boom and increasing inequality at home in Norway.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

4. Crisis? What Crisis? Norwegian Shipping in the Interwar Period

Interwar shipping was a watershed, and Norwegian shipping companies went from laggards to leaders. The strength of the two leading maritime powers—the UK and the United States—was greatly reduced. Other countries—Germany, Greece, Norway and Japan—prospered during what was generally a very difficult period for the shipping industry. Tenold explains why Norwegian shipping performed particularly well. He shows that the Norwegian expansion was based on profitable investments in oil tankers and motor ships, partly financed by yard credits from abroad. By 1939 Norway had the world’s most modern fleet.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

5. The Second World War

During the Second World War the Norwegian merchant marine was organized in Nortraship—the world’s largest shipping company—where shipowners and bureaucrats together ensured efficient use of tonnage. The Norwegian fleet played an extremely important role in the outcome of the war, and there were great losses of ships and seafarers. In addition to presenting the organization of Norwegian shipping during the Second World War and the subsequent rebuilding of the fleet, Tenold discusses the treatment of the war sailors after peace had returned—a far less glorious chapter in Norway’s maritime history.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

6. Bigger and Bigger: Shipping During the Golden Age, 1950–73

Due to the strong growth of trade and production during the Golden Age, the shipping industry emerged as a winner. The world fleet increased rapidly, with larger and more specialized ships, and the post-war growth of Norwegian shipping was particularly strong. Tenold analyses three technological revolutions in shipping in the period 1950–1973: containerization, bulkification and specialization. With domestic wage levels increasing, Norwegian shipping companies chose to invest in capital intensive ships—large tankers and bulk carriers and innovative specialized vessels. The chapter also discusses the sources of capital for Norwegian shipping, and the effects of Norwegian maritime policy.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

7. The Shipping Crisis

The focus on large oil tankers, which had proved so beneficial in the 1960s and early 1970s, became a millstone after the 1973/1974 oil price increase. No country was as badly affected by the shipping crisis as Norway, and the problems led to a massive reduction in the number of Norwegian shipping companies. This was matched by a strong decline in the Norwegian fleet, as ships were sold to foreigners or “flagged out” to low labour-cost registries. Tenold shows how the strategies backfired and explains why Norwegian shipping companies were particularly hard hit by the shipping crisis.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

8. Rebound: The Return of Norwegian Shipping

The shipping crisis of the 1970s and 1980s almost eradicated Norwegian shipping. The 1987 establishment of the Norwegian International Ship Register was the brainchild of Erling Dekke Næss. The NIS enabled the use of foreign, low-cost seamen on Norwegian ships trading internationally, and can be characterized as “the kiss of life” for Norwegian shipping. The timing was perfect—around the same time the shipping markets improved, and this paved the way for massive new investment. Tenold shows that parallel with the resurgence in traditional deep-sea shipping, there was substantial investment made in offshore petroleum exploration by Norwegian shipping companies.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

9. Onshore and Offshore: The New Maritime Norway

At the end of the 20th century Norway had a very vibrant shipping sector. Tenold shows that the manner in which it is organized has changed substantially. Deep-sea shipping is practically completely manned by foreigners, and there has also been an increase in multinational ownership. The industry has become professionalized and more like other industries. In addition to the traditional merchant marine, Norway had the world’s second largest fleet of oil rigs and supply vessels, operating all over the world. In contrast to most other European countries, Norway—together with Denmark and Greece—managed to maintain a substantial shipping industry despite the tendency for such activities to “go East” by relocating to Asia.
Stig Tenold

Open Access

10. Epilogue: A Century of Norwegian Shipping

The final chapter explains the success of Norwegian shipping in the 20th century by processes at four different levels: globalization at the international level, liberalization at the domestic level, concentration and specialization at the regional level and professionalization and innovation at the business level. Tenold also asks whether Norway should still be considered a shipping nation, and whether there is any future for Norwegian shipping in the 21st century.
Stig Tenold


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