In 2014 the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority commenced an audit of the Norwegian International Ship Register. Subsequently, the EFTA Surveillance Authority opened a case against Norway for a possible breach of the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement. The case concerned a geographical trade limitation applicable to ships flying the flag of the Norwegian International Ship Register.
Norway has two different ship registers: the Norsk Ordinært Skipsregister (NOR) – the domestic register – and the Norsk Internasjonalt Skipsregister (NIS), the international register. Norwegian legislation contained in the NIS Act stipulates that only vessels registered in the NOR are permitted to carry cargo and passengers between Norwegian ports, unless the Norwegian Maritime Authority grants an exemption. Further, regular scheduled passenger transport between Norwegian and Nordic harbours and foreign ports is reserved for NOR vessels. Consequently, operators flying the NIS flag must re-register under the NOR in order to avoid trade limitations.
However, following its investigation, the EFTA Surveillance Authority agreed with the Norwegian government that the restrictions were justified based on Article 33 of the EEA Agreement, a provision which allows restrictions due to overriding public interest. This conclusion was supported by the need to protect the employment rights of EEA seafarers, which – according to the Norwegian government – constitutes a primary reason for the relevant provisions in the NIS Act.