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History of the Norwegian Coastal Administration

The Norwegian Coastal Administration is a modern organisation with old and proud traditions.

Our task is to ensure safety and accessibility along the Norwegian coast by developing and maintaining maritime infrastructure, in addition to providing various maritime services.

The present day Norwegian Coastal Administration is a merger of the former Lighthouse and Buoy Authority, Pilot Authority and Port Authority. Read more about the Norwegian Coastal Administration’s history. Select from the menu on the left (or at the top of the screen for mobile phone users).

The history of the NCA

  • Norwegian lighthouse history

    The first mention of a specific navigation mark in Norway dates way back to the Saga era. In 869, the first Norseman to sail to Iceland, Floke Vilgerdson, erected a cairn, which came to be known as Ryvarden. It is not until the 17th century that more reliable sources about navigation marks can be found.

    The lighthouse at Lindesnes was first lit in 1652. After two seasons, the light was extinguished. It was then lit again in 1725. In the meantime, several lighthouses had been built along the coast; Færder in 1697, followed by Kvitsøy and Høgevarde in 1700. All were privately run and based on entitlement.

    In 1841, the Lighthouse Directorate was established. Over a 40-year period, more than 100 manned lighthouses were built.

    After the domination of stone as a building material, the first cast iron tower was completed on the island of Egerøy in 1854. Cement and concrete were eventually introduced, and the use of more robust materials meant that lighthouses could be built in more exposed and weather-beaten locations.

    The quality of lighting in the lighthouses was constantly being improved. In 1883, the gas oil burner was introduced, making it possible to erect multiple beacon lights without constant supervision. And in 1897, the first electric lighthouse was built at Ryvingen.

    Technology advancements reduced the need for manned lighthouses, and more and more buildings were left empty. The last manned lighthouse was automated in 2006.

    Today, the Norwegian Coastal Administration’s own museum is responsible for documenting and providing information on Norwegian lighthouse history.

  • Pilotage history in Norway

    The first legal provisions concerning pilotage originate from Magnus VI of Norway’s city and land laws from the end of the 13th century. But it was not until after the Nordic war that raged in the early 18th century that an organised pilotage system emerged.

    After ten years of naval battles, partly under the command of the Norwegian nobleman Tordenskjold, Gabriel Christiansen was given the green light to form an independent pilotage service in Norway. The first Norwegian pilotage scheme was introduced in 1720.

    Despite the pilotage service being organised as a state endeavour, the conditions for the individual pilots did not improve much. The men had to compete for work – the one who managed to ‘hijack’ an approaching ship got the job. This meant that the pilots themselves were responsible for how much they earned, while the Government laid down rules, determined charges and approved certification of the pilots. The pilots’ knowledge of the waters was acquired through personal experience and was also passed down family lines. A pilot’s son would often follow in his father’s footsteps. This is how the pilotage service was run, without any significant changes until the end of the 19th century.

    The trend for forming associations that spread throughout Norway in the last decades of the 19th century also reached the pilotage service. The first pilot’s association, Færderlosenes forening, was founded in 1889, and its main aim was to revise the pilotage law, with the introduction of a general pilotage fund to put an end to the competition for work. After 10 years of struggle, the breakthrough came – the general fund principle was accepted. This enabled the pilots to coordinate shifts and operation of the boats and share the profits between them.

    It took time for the new system to get a foothold throughout the country, but in 1925 the principle was finally introduced. The Pilot Directorate was established in 1948, and the pilots became civil servants. Eventually, the state took over ownership of the pilot boats, and state boat operators were recruited. It was not until 1980 that the pilots were paid in accordance with a statutory wage scale.

    Today, there are approximately 270 pilots in the Norwegian Coastal Administration, 115 of whom operate the boats.

    Today, the Norwegian Coastal Administration’s own museum is responsible for documenting and providing information on Norway’s pilot history.

  • Norwegian port history

    The Norwegian Port Authority was established in 1841. Initially, the authority’s work was primarily related to regulatory and supervisory activities at an overarching level and participation in municipal port administrations.

    When Oluf Roll took up the position of Port Director in 1861 (where he remained until 1897), a separate contracting department was established with the aim of building ports for the fishing industry. While 30 port facilities were established in the period 1842-72, as many as 300 new ones were built over the course of the next 40 years. The annual budgets almost doubled during this time.

    One of the deciding factors in this effort was the establishment of the ‘Port Fund’ in 1873, which was built from a statutory export tax on fish products. Revenues from the fund were earmarked for fisheries-related development (fishing ports). Since the tax was only collected from Rogaland and northwards until 1908, fund-supported investments could only be made in these areas. The Government injected capital, which for a long time constituted at least a third of what the fund paid out.

    Almost 800 state fishing ports have been built in total, and the value of the investments in 1988 was estimated at NOK 7-8 billion.

    State fishing ports can be found along the entire Norwegian coast, and they differ somewhat in terms of size, setting and usage. Many different parties have interests in the fishing ports. The Norwegian Coastal Administration is naturally one of the key actors, both in the role of manager of the state’s private law ownership rights and right of use, and as a public administration authority under the Harbour Act.

    Today, the Norwegian Coastal Administration’s own museum is responsible for documenting and providing information about the history of Norwegian ports.

  • Recent history – 1974 and beyond

    In 1974, the Norwegian Lighthouse and Buoy Authority, Pilot Authority and Port Authority were merged into one government agency; the Norwegian Coast Directorate. The Norwegian Coastal Administration came into existence in 1981, and district offices were created.

    These offices were closed at the start of 2021 following a reorganisation, but the Norwegian Coastal Administration still has a presence throughout the country - from Arendal in the south to Honningsvåg in the north.

    In 1981, the new Norwegian Coastal Administration was subordinate to the Norwegian Coast Directorate, which in turn was directly under the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs.

    In 2002, the Directorate was moved from Oslo to Ålesund. The district offices were given a special area of responsibility, serving as a competence centre for various areas of expertise in the agency. The Norwegian Coastal Administration’s shipping company, located in Ålesund, was demerged into a separate unit.

    The Department for Emergency Response - formerly part of the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (now the Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency (Klif)) - became part of the Norwegian Coastal Administration in 2003. Headquartered in Horten, the department had outstations at Bergen and Tromsø, and was subordinate to the Norwegian Coast Directorate.

    In 2007, the Norwegian Coast Directorate was renamed the Norwegian Coastal Administration Head Office. In the same year, the district offices became regional offices.

    In 2013, the Norwegian Coastal Administration was placed under the Ministry of Transport.

    The regional offices were closed at the start of 2021 following a reorganisation. With that, the name ‘Norwegian Coastal Administration Head Office’ also disappeared. There is now a single body, which is under the Ministry of Transport.

    And the Norwegian Coastal Administration still has a presence throughout the country - from Arendal in the south to Honningsvåg in the north.

    The Norwegian Coastal Administration is the latest name for an organisation with old and proud traditions in its earlier forms; the Norwegian Lighthouse and Buoy Authority, Pilot Authority and Port Authority.

    It has gradually taken on new tasks.


  • The history of VTS centres

    The Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) centres manage and track maritime traffic along the Norwegian coast. As far back as the 1920s, attempts were made to manage maritime traffic from land in port areas with high volumes of traffic in the United States, however communication was limited to visual and radio contact.

    In 1946, the head of the British navy initiated an experiment with radar surveillance from the port of Liverpool. This use of land-based radar was to prove extremely useful, including for civilian purposes. Throughout the 1950s, radar combined with radio communication was used to track and guide ships into ports. This was the starting point for the modern VTS.

    The first VTS centre in Norway was established in Brevik in 1978 as a response to the growing number of accidents in the approach to Grenland despite lighthouse marking and the presence of a pilot. The aim of the VTS centre was to track and guide the vessels, which were often laden with hazardous cargos, on their way to and from Norsk Hydro’s petrochemical plant. The number of accidents at Brevik fell dramatically after the centre was established.

    Subsequent public consultations recommended setting up VTS centres in the areas with the highest volumes of maritime traffic in Norway: Oslofjord, Rogaland and Fedje. Centres were subsequently opened at Fedje (1992), Horten (1996) and Kvitsøy (2003). Vardø VTS centre was established in 2007 and its area of responsibility stretches from the Barents Sea in the east to Lofoten in the west.

    The VTS centre coordinates various services for shipping traffic relating to navigation, regulatory matters and information (weather forecasts, traffic information, etc.).

    The individual VTS centres maintain an overview at all times of a specific area using radio, radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System), and have visual contact with ships in the vicinity of the centre. The maritime traffic managers at the VTS centres are therefore able to spot risky situations and take the necessary measures to avoid accidents.

    There have been very few accidents in VTS areas, and considerably more have been avoided as a result of the services they provide. When accidents have occurred, the staff at the VTS centres have been quick to initiate a rescue operation, and there have consequently been no fatalities.

    Author: Eirik Gurandsrud, The Museums of the Norwegian Coastal Administration/Jærmuseet

  • History of Norwegian preparedness against acute pollution

    Between 1950 and 1970, world oil consumption increased by 340 per cent. The oil was transported across the world’s oceans from the producer countries to the consumer countries in increasingly larger oil tankers, and there was growing concern that it was only a matter of time before pollution catastrophes would occur.

    The first international treaty by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil was signed in London in 1954, and entered into force four years later.

    The emergence of the petroleum industry in Norway

    As early as 1966, test drilling for oil and gas began on the Norwegian continental shelf. It would take another three years for the first major find to be made, on the Ekofisk oil field. Before test production began in 1971, the Norwegian authorities had passed a law on protection against oil spills. The Oil Protection Council was given responsibility for coordinating the country’s preparedness against oil spills.

    By the time the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority was established in 1974, the organisation of oil-spill preparedness had been the subject of discussion for several years. In that same year, the oil-spill preparedness was reorganised. The Ministry of the Environment was given overall responsibility. A report to the Storting on measures against acute pollution was submitted in 1975, which proposed that emergency preparedness be developed at three levels: private, municipal and national.

    Blowout 1977

    On 22 April 1977, an uncontrolled oil spill, known as a blowout, occurred on the Bravo platform in the Ekofisk oil field. During a blowout, liquid (oil/water) or gas flows uncontrollably out of an oil well. About 10 000 tonnes of oil were flushed into the sea. Experts from the United States had to be brought in to deal with the situation.

    As the owner of the oil fields, the Norwegian state showed a clear environmental awareness, but its ability to act was limited. The Bravo accident thus became a turning point in Norwegian oil-spill preparedness. The three-way responsibility for preparedness between private, municipal and national stakeholders was to remain in place, but the private sector, i.e. the oil companies that operated in the North Sea, were given greater responsibility for both prevention and clean-up after accidents.

    The preparedness was not just about the division of responsibilities and organisation – the oil-spill response equipment was also central to the debate that followed the Bravo blowout. During question time in the Storting in October 1979, the Norwegian politician Odd Einar Dørum pointed out the shortcomings in the oil-spill response equipment: ‘… the oil-spill response equipment that has now been approved by the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority can remove about 40 per cent of the oil spills, weather permitting.’ At this point, 12 oil-spill response depots had been established along the Norwegian coast, which were equipped with the best oil-spill response equipment found in the area. But the equipment was not good enough for the harsh weather conditions along the Norwegian coast.

    The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority carried out a number of oil-spill response operations, and in the period 1989-1993 alone, 38 operations were initiated. Five of these were serious, such as the running aground of Mercantil Marica off the Sogn coast in October 1989. A total of 420 tonnes of oil were leaked, and 30 kilometres of shoreline were damaged.

    The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority was steadily building its oil-spill response expertise.

    During the Gulf War in 1991, oil spills threatened a production plant for drinking water and electricity in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Norway sent experts and equipment from the Pollution Control Authority to protect this important facility. The work took five months and was very successful.

    Norwegian oil-spill preparedness has been strengthened through strict requirements for operators, increased competence and improved equipment.

    State responsibility for the NCA

    Since 2003, the Norwegian Coastal Administration has managed the state’s responsibility for Norwegian oil-spill preparedness. In recent years, the Norwegian Coastal Administration has carried out large oil-spill response operations in connection with the running aground of Rocknes, Server, Full City and Godafoss. The growing volumes of maritime traffic and new oil finds in the North Sea are also set to be a major challenge for the Norwegian Coastal Administration in the future.

    Compiled by Eirik Gurandsrud, The Museums of the Norwegian Coastal Administration

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