BRUSSELS/LONDON Dec 5 China's COSCO
and South Korea's Hanjin Shipping are among 14
container shipping companies under an EU investigation for
allegedly influencing prices for European routes, two people
with knowledge of the matter said.
The European Commission opened a probe into the group last
month for appearing to alert each other of price increases via
press releases and on their websites, saying they may be acting
in concert in breach of competition rules.
The investigation, which could lead to formal charges and
fines of up to 10 percent of a company's global turnover, comes
as the global industry struggles with an excessive number of
vessels and weak demand due to the economic downturn.
Container ships transport consumer goods such as electronics
and food in metal boxes, with a standard length of 20 feet.
Consultancy Alphaliner said a negative decision could be
highly detrimental for the sector by curbing "the avenues for
communicating future price increases and prevent carriers from
implementing uniform rate hikes simultaneously".
The European Union competition watchdog did not identify the
companies, in line with its usual policy. But the two biggest
container line operators AP Moller Maersk and
Mediterranean Shipping Company both said last month on the day
of the EU announcement that they were under investigation.
Taiwan's Evergreen Marine, Germany's Hapag-Lloyd
and CMA CGM, which is the third-biggest operator, all
confirmed on Thursday they were included in the probe.
The sources said the group also includes South Korea's other
top shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine, China Shipping
Container Lines and Japan's No. 1 Nippon Yusen
Kaisha and No. 2 Mitsui O.S.K. Lines.
The others are Hong Kong-based OOCL (Orient Overseas
Container Line), United Arab Shipping Co (UASC) and Israeli
company Zim Integrated Shipping Ltd, they said.
A spokeswoman for Zim declined to comment. Officials at
COSCO, China Shipping Container Lines, Nippon, Mitsui, Hanjin,
Hyundai and UASC could not immediately be reached for comment
"Prima facie evidence suggest that the EC (European
Commission) may have a case against the carriers for price
signaling," Alphaliner said.
According to Alphaliner data, carriers on the benchmark
Asia-to-Europe route have announced at least 34 rate increases
since 2009. In most cases, the timing and amounts of increases
were largely similar for the main carriers, with announcements
made by lines within a few days of each other.
Although carriers in some instances varied the rate
increases by $25 to $100 per teu (20 foot-equivalent unit),
their pricing could still come under the Commission's ambiguous
'concerted practices' rules as tacit collusion, which does not
require an explicit agreement to fix prices, Alphaliner said.
Analysts expect further headwinds next year for the
container shipping industry, with no respite from depressed
(Additional reporting by Steven Scheer in Jerusalem, Cho
Meeyoung in Seoul, Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt, Clare Jim in
Taipei and Keith Wallis in Singapore; editing by Jane Baird)