EC ends antitrust probe of two shipowner cooperatives

EU probeJANUARY 31, 2013 — The European Commission has closed an antitrust investigation into European Minibulk eG and Container Feeder eG. Both were set up in December 2011 by representatives of several shipping companies from Northern Germany and the Netherlands "to support shipping companies in their efforts to lower their costs, to raise their turnover, and to enhance the results of their companies in general."

The two cooperatives aim to coordinate certain activities of the owners of minibulk and container feeder vessels, mainly in Northern Europe, such as the joint purchasing fuel.

The Commission was concerned that a compensation system set up for owners laying-up their vessels would give them an incentive to withdraw capacity from the market.

The Commission was also concerned that an information exchange scheme could have enabled the coordination of rates between competitors.

Following discussions with the Commission, the cooperatives agreed to abandon these two aspects of their cooperation before they had been implemented. As a result, competition on the market will be maintained. Consequently, the Commission has now been able to close the case without having to initiate formal proceedings.

The Commission started investigating the two cooperatives in January 2012 after receiving information from the market. The Commission wanted to verify whether a planned compensation system for owners laying-up their vessels was compatible with EU rules that prohibit anti-competitive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – TFEU). The Commission was concerned that the compensation system would provide an incentive to withdraw capacity from the market resulting in charter rate increases.

The Commission was also concerned about an aspect of the information exchange scheme. The scheme would have provided charter rate recommendations to vessel owners on the basis of information collected from them about their own charter rates. This could have enabled the coordination of rates between competitors that would have likely resulted in charter rate increases.

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