The Federal Ministry is the Supreme Shipping Authority in legal matters and for technical and nautical affairs of inland and maritime shipping.

Within the framework of the Convention regarding the Regime of Navigation on the Danube, the Shipping Inspectorate, nautically trained administrative police, ensures uniform shipping administration on this international waterway. Their tasks consist of the monitoring of compliance with all the administrative provisions concerning shipping, the issuing of orders to users of the waterway, the regulating of shipping including the designation of the fairway and assistance for damaged vessels.

Shipping demands specialisation of the administrative body, the so-called river master, in transport law. A river master requires years of experience to be able to assess all situations and issues correctly. The large moving masses of ships and convoys of ships, the strong flow forces and flow velocities of the Danube mountain river and possibly also the additional wind effect on the large areas of a ship make this a huge challenge, especially in the event of flooding and ice drift.

Inland shipping

In comparison with road and rail, inland waterways offer economic advantages, high capacity reserves and a low environmental impact. The EU Member States have made the standardisation of the legal and technical provisions in the transport sector and thereby also for traffic on inland waterways their common goal. At the same time, existing international agreements that bind third countries, such as the Belgrade Convention, continue to apply. A year-round guaranteed fairway depth is indispensable for year-round economical shipping operations. At Donau River Information Services (abbreviated DoRIS), the current fairway depths and water levels are represented graphically. The certainty that the load capacity of the ships can be used to a great extent is required to enable competitive freight prices not only for bulk goods like coal, ore and petroleum products, but also Just-in-Time transport operations for general cargo and containers.

Waterways are increasingly heavily used because road and rail are increasingly reaching their capacity limits. All the streams and rivers suitable for commercial shipping are not only “wet motorways”, of course, but also, above all, high-quality habitats that must be protected and preserved. It is a clear objective of the BMK that the Danube is not negatively affected by shipping. Strict regulations apply both for the admission of ships and for their operation. So that the prohibition on water pollution can be complied with and monitored effectively, shipping companies have committed to voluntarily document the proper disposal of ship wastewater, sludge and waste, on the initiative of the Federal Ministry. The progress is reviewed every two years. The results help to rethink the Danube Action Programme and to adjust the plan of measures to the current requirements. To facilitate waste separation for cargo shipping on the Austrian Danube, the Austrian waterways company via donau also developed a uniform system for labelling waste material and residual waste collection containers.

INeS Danube

The Inland Navigation eLearning System (INeS), is a contemporary training instrument in inland shipping. On the initiative of via donau, an Internet-based learning platform was developed within the framework of a European Union project, which provides information on the possibilities of inland shipping in a compact, clear manner. The learning platform is operated by via donau and is freely accessible in several languages.

Austrian maritime shipping

In principle, the Declaration recognising the Right to a Flag of States having no Sea-coast from 1921 ensures states without a sea coast the right to operate maritime shipping under their own flag. Austria created modern maritime shipping law in 1981 and ratified all the key international agreements that establish building, safety and labour law standards. The European Union law, implemented domestically, ensures uniformly high standards. There is, however, no longer any seagoing vessel under the Austrian flag. Austria adapted its maritime shipping law in 2012 accordingly. Only smaller yachts are now able to obtain Austrian admission.