13 July 2017

Bunker Firms the Latest Accused of Cartel Action as Authority Undertakes Raids on Premises  

Companies Operating in Three European Ports Under Antitrust Investigation

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Shipping News Feature EUROPE – The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has launched an antitrust investigation into a possible cartel in the bunker sector, where several companies are alleged to have 'concluded illegal price-fixing agreements. In the bunker sector, marine gas oil and fuel oil used to power numerous types of ships are produced, processed, traded, stored, and transported. This investigation involves companies that are active in the ports of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp.

The bunker sector is a critical one for the Dutch port and shipping companies. Across the three mentioned ports, dozens of bunkering companies are active as producers, suppliers or storage providers. The port of Rotterdam is the world’s third largest bunkering port and all three are not just important in the ocean trade , but also as feeder ports, with dozens of ships ferrying cargo and containers to numerous points around Europe at any one time.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service provided ACM with the possible collusion information with regard to the bunker sector, apparently originating from police sources. The information provided was one of the principal reasons for launching this investigation and subsequently led to the ACM conducting several dawn raids in the sector.

ACM has called on the public, including employees (current and former) in this sector, to share any tip-offs and indications about possible antitrust offences they might have and such information can be shared anonymously. Companies and individuals that are part of a cartel, can take advantage of the leniency programme which, if they choose to do so, may entitle them to reductions in their potential fines. Fines for cartel activities imposed on companies can be as high as 40% of their combined global turnover. The maximum fine on individuals that have exercised leadership over cartel activity is €900,000.

In the coming months, ACM will assess whether the Dutch Competition Act has indeed been violated. In order to do so, the actual practices need to be investigated in greater detail prior to prosecution, conversely ACM could also come to the conclusion that no violation has been committed. However, if a violation has been established, then the parties will be interviewed ahead of any court action or the imposition of any sanctions.

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