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Bundeskartellamt imposes fines on harbour towage service providers

Date of issue: 18.12.2017

The Bundeskartellamt has imposed fines amounting to approx. 13 million euros on three harbour towage service providers.

The companies concerned are Fairplay Schleppdampfschiffsreederei Richard Borchard GmbH, Hamburg, Bugsier-, Reederei- und Bergungs GmbH & Co. KG, Hamburg, and Petersen & Alpers GmbH & Co. KG, Hamburg. No fine was imposed on Unterweser Reederei GmbH, which had 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: "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.

Harbour tugs are relatively small, very manoeuvrable boats with powerful engines, which in a harbour tow larger vessels to their berth and out of the harbour again. The customers of these services are the shipping companies that use the respective harbours, in particular the liner shipping companies.

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.

Two of the fines are already final. The third fining decision can still be appealed to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. See also press release of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets of 18.12.2017 (English version will be available soon).

Press release (pdf)

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