Feds up scrutiny of ocean shipping

Written by Nick Blenkey
ocean shipping


Here’s another indication that ocean shipping, and in particular the nine carriers and three alliances that dominate the global container shipping market, are facing increasing U.S. scrutiny—and could potentially lose their antitrust immunity.

The Justice Department and the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) yesterday said that they had “reaffirmed their continuing commitment to jointly enforcing competition laws and strengthening their cooperation to promote competition in the ocean freight transportation system.”

The FMC and the Justice Department have worked together in the past. In July 2021, the working relationship between the two agencies was formalized with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU established a framework for partnership between the FMC and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division that enhances cooperation in the enforcement of antitrust and competition laws, including the Shipping Act, including by facilitating information exchange between and among attorneys, economists and technical experts.


Building upon the July 2021 MOU, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Chairman Daniel B. Maffei yesterday announced new steps the two agencies will take to strengthen this partnership. The Justice Department will provide the FMC with the support of attorneys and economists from the Antitrust Division for enforcement of violations of the Shipping Act and related laws. The FMC will provide the Antitrust Division with support and maritime industry expertise for Sherman Act and Clayton Act enforcement actions.

“The Justice Department will continue to aggressively enforce our antitrust laws – no matter the industry, no matter the company, and no matter the individual,” said Attorney General Garland. “Competition in the maritime industry is integral to lowering prices, improving quality of service, and strengthening supply chain resilience. Expanding joint enforcement partnerships like the partnership between the FMC and DOJ is one of our most powerful tools for promoting competition. Lawbreakers should know that the Justice Department will provide the Federal Maritime Commission all necessary litigation support as it pursues its mission of promoting competition in ocean shipping.”

“The Attorney General and I share both the priority of a competitive marketplace and a commitment to pursue enforcement actions when necessary,” said Chairman Maffei. “Our agencies have a history of cooperating to the benefit of the American consumer and this new support will help ensure that the working relationship will help both government entities in our shared goal of fair competition.”


All this comes just a few days after it was announced that the Antitrust Division will be part of a working group set up by the competition authorities of the “Five Eyes” nations (the U.K . the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand). The group will meet regularly to develop and share intelligence to detect and investigate suspected supply-chain anti-competitive behavior and collusion, using existing international cooperation tools.

Categories: News, Shipping Tags: ,