Wednesday, February 21, 2018

RoRo Shipping Cartel Hit with Yet More Fines for Anti-Competitive Practices

EU Imposes Hundreds of Millions of Euros in Penalties on Collaborating Carriers
Shipping News Feature
EUROPE – We return yet again to one of the ongoing scandals of the industry with the news that the European Commission has imposed total fines of €395 million on five international shipping companies over allegations that the carriers violated European competition laws by colluding to segment the market of ocean shipping services for RoRo cargo. The lines involved in the cartel have all seen heavy fines previously levied against them in Korea, the US and elsewhere for a multitude of anti-competitive practices worldwide, with each collecting millions of dollars in fines for similar offences.

Chile's Compania Sudamericana de Vapores (CSAV); Japan’s Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK), Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Lines (K Line), and the Norwegian/Swedish carrier Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL)-EUKOR are accused of participating in a cartel for almost six years, from October 2006 to September 2012, where they apparently agreed to carry RoRo cargo on various routes between Europe and other continents.

The linking of EUKOR, a name derived from Europe and Korea and also already the subject of prosecutions elsewhere, is particularly of interest as, when the company’s shares were acquired by the two Scandinavian carriers Wilh. Wilhelmsen and Wallenius Lines from Hyundai Merchant Marine earlier this century, the European Commission insisted that, to avoid any antitrust prosecutions, the companies must agree to cancel EUKOR's existing collaboration with NYK and specifically undertake not to enter any similar arrangements ‘without express prior permission from the authority regulators’.

The Commission's latest investigation revealed that, to coordinate anticompetitive behaviour, the carriers' Sales Managers met at each other's offices, in bars, restaurants, or other social gatherings and were in contact over the phone on a regular basis. In particular, they coordinated prices, allocated customers and exchanged commercially sensitive information about elements of the price, such as charges and surcharges added to prices to offset currency or oil prices fluctuations.

The carriers agreed to maintain the status quo in the market and to respect each other's traditional business on certain routes or with certain customers, by quoting artificially high prices or not quoting at all in tenders issued by vehicle manufacturers.

The cartel affected both European car importers and final customers, as imported vehicles were sold within the European Economic Area (EEA), and European vehicle manufacturers, as their vehicles were exported outside the EEA. In 2016, some 3.4 million motor vehicles were imported from non-EU countries, while the EU exported more than 6.3 million vehicles to non-EU countries in 2016. Almost half of these vehicles were transported by the aforementioned carriers.

During its investigation, the Commission cooperated with several competition authorities around the world, including in Australia, Canada, Japan and the US. In determining the fines, the Commission took into account the sales value on the intercontinental routes to and from the EEA achieved by the cartel participants for the transport services, the serious nature of the infringement, its geographic scope and its duration.

As so often with these cases the Commission's investigation was prompted by an immunity application, this time one submitted by MOL. This is usually undertaken by a company that fears prosecution but may be liable to have its penalty reduced, or even waived, by the authorities. Under the Commission's 2006 Leniency Notice, MOL received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel, thereby avoiding a fine of around €203 million. The Commission also applied a 20% fine reduction for CSAV, to take into account its lesser involvement in the infringement.

As well as MOL and CSAV, K Line, NYK, and WWL-EUKOR also benefited from reductions of their fines for their cooperating with the Commission, though not quite to the extent of MOL. The reductions reflect the timing of their cooperation and the extent to which the evidence they provided helped the Commission to prove the existence of the cartel.

In addition, under the Commission's 2008 Settlement Notice, the Commission applied a reduction of 10% to the fines imposed on the companies in view of their acknowledgment of the participation in the cartel and of their liability in this respect.

The breakdown of the fines imposed on each company is as follows:

Company Reduction Under Leniency Reduction Under Settlement Fine (€)
 MOL  100% 10%
NYK 20% 10% 141,820,000
K Line 50% 10% 39,100,000
WWL/Eukor 20% 10% 207,335,000
CSAV 25% 10% 7,033,000