Cartel fines for harbour towage providers

Germany's competition authority investigated alleged towage cartel practices (Bundeskartellamt) Germany's competition authority investigated alleged towage cartel practices (Bundeskartellamt)

The independent German competition authority, the Bundeskartellamt, has imposed fines amounting to approximately 13m Euros on three harbour towage service providers following an investigation into a cartel agreement.

The companies concerned are: Fairplay Schleppdampfdchiffreederei Richard Borchard GmbH, Hamburg; Bugsier Reederei und Bergungs GmbH & Co KG, Hamburg and Petersen & Alpers GmbH & Co, Hamburg. No fine was imposed on Unterweser Reederei GmbH which has also participated in the cartel agreement and its subsidiary Lütgens & Reimers GmbH & Co KG because they had reported the cartel to the Bundeskartellamt. For discretionary reasons no fine was imposed on Neue Schleppdampfschiffsreederei Louis Meyer GmbH & Co KG, which has since exited the market. Investigations into another company are still ongoing.

Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt stated: "Our investigations have shown that at least between 2002 and 2013 the harbour towage companies divided orders and turnover earned from several German harbours among themselves. The companies set quotas based on turnover which they used to allocate orders between them."

The quotas were set in 2000/2001 after Dutch harbour towage companies had started operating on the Elbe and Weser rivers. All the major towage companies in the respective harbours had participated in the quota allocation. As Dutch companies were also involved in the cartel, the Bundeskartellamt cooperated closely with the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets in this case.

Fines are generally calculated according to the gravity and duration of the infringement. In this particular case, in addition to the small geographical market, the powerful position of the opposite market side, in particular the liner shipping companies, was taken into consideration in the companies' favour. In setting the fine the Bundeskartellamt also took into account that the three companies fined had cooperated with the authority within the scope of its leniency programme and had each concluded a settlement with the authority.

By Peter Barker

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