In a statement the Commission said that since 2009 these companies had made regular public announcements of price increase intentions and that these announcements, often made via releases and the trade press, state the amount of increase and the date of implementation, which are generally similar for all companies.
“These announcements are usually made by the companies successively a few weeks before the implementation date,” said the statement.
The Commission has concerns that this practice may allow the companies to signal future price intentions to each other and may harm competition and customers by raising prices on the market for container liner shipping transport services on routes to and from Europe.
“The Commission will now investigate whether this behaviour amounts to a concerted practice in breach of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and of Article 53 of the European Economic Area Agreement,” said a statement.
The companies concerned as well as the competition authorities of the Member States have been informed.
There is no legal deadline for bringing an antitrust investigation to an end. The duration of an investigation depends on a number of factors, among them the complexity of the case, the co-operation of the undertakings with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
No specific companies were cited in the statement but the Maersk Group has confirmed that its shipping line will be part of the investigation. The company said in a statement that there was “no reason to believe that Maersk Line has behaved in a manner not in accordance with EU competition law.”
In total it is believed that 14 lines will be affected by the investigation. Along with Maersk, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd were among the companies raided by EU officials in 2011 over accusations of collusion.
If evidence of rule-breaking is found, those guilty could face heavy fines, as much as 10% of their global turnover according to one source.
The probe comes at a time when competition regulators in both the United States and China are considering the implications of the proposed P3 Alliance of Maersk Line, CMA CGM and Mediterranean Shipping Co., the three largest shipping lines in the world.