|Norway's first shipowners' association was founded in Bergen in 1899, and Stavanger, Kristiania, Arendal and Kristiansand followed suit. In 1909, representatives of the local associations met in Kristiania. After securing the support of half of the country's tonnage, they convened on 15 September 1909 to found the Norwegian Shipowners' Association (Norges Rederforbund), with former Prime Minister Christian Michelsen as president.
The Norwegian merchant fleet played a significant role during both world wars. In 1917 a tonnage agreement was signed with Britain, placing 130 Norwegian vessels at the disposal of the British, and in the spring of 1940 the Scheme Agreement, brokered by the Shipowners' Association, gave Britain the use of 150 tankers and dry cargo vessels totalling 450,000 tonnes. This agreement formed the basis for the establishment of Nortraship and the merchant fleet's support of the Allied forces. Norway's contribution at sea was extremely important, but the price was high. More than half of Nortraship's 1081 vessels were lost and nearly 4000 seamen lost their lives.
During the reconstruction of Norway after the war, the merchant fleet continued to give a helping hand. Nortraship's income during the war and compensation for sunk ships provided huge foreign currency earnings. This made it possible to import large quantities of goods before exports of Norwegian goods could start up. These earnings also provided the initial capital for the purchase of new vessels. In the course of a ten-year period Norway's merchant fleet grew to become the fourth largest in the world.
After the discovery of oil on Ekofisk in 1969, Norwegian shipping began to focus on the offshore market. Exploration, supply and auxiliary services, seismic surveys and other specialized services were first directed at the Norwegian continental shelf, but are today world-wide and internationally competitive.
In the 1970s and 80s, during the shipping crisis, many shipowners transferred their vessels to other flags and replaced Norwegian crews with crews hired under international terms. To counteract this trend, the authorities established the Norwegian International Ship Register (NIS) in 1987. In 1984 the Association changed its name to Norges Rederiforbund. Today, 163 shipping companies, with a total of 1467 vessels and rigs, are members of the Association. Norway is the fifth largest shipping nation in the world.