The "Graciosa" container boat on the Rhine
Switzerland enjoys freedom of navigation on the Rhine. © Norbert Aepli - CC BY 2.5

The FDFA's Swiss Maritime Navigation Office is responsible for the Swiss merchant fleet. The ships are privately owned. However, the Swiss Confederation may commandeer them for the country's economic needs in time of crisis or war.

Switzerland has a maritime commercial fleet, under the responsibility of the Swiss Maritime Navigation Office (SMNO) of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). The SMNO, based in Basel, also maintains the register of all Swiss ocean-going yachts and small boats.

Switzerland enjoys freedom of navigation on the Rhine and its tributaries and, thus, duty-free access to the sea. Switzerland is a member of the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR), headquartered in Strasbourg.

Swiss Maritime Navigation Office (SMNO)

The right to commandeer ships

If need arises, the Confederation may commandeer Swiss commercial ships to ensure the country's economic needs. It was for this reason that the Swiss maritime fleet was established in 1941.

Indeed, ensuring the country's supply of essential goods in time of crisis or conflict is still why a merchant fleet operates under the Swiss flag, although these ships are privately-owned and used according to market needs in peace time.