Container shippers ordered to testify in US antitrust investigation

Antitrust investigators at the US Department of Justice (DoJ) have subpoenaed top executives from several container shipping lines, including Maersk, OOCL and reportedly Hapag-Lloyd, as part of their investigation into the containership business.

The DoJ is concerned at the impact of the new shipping alliances kicking in this year. OOCL said that it had “received a subpoena from the Department of Justice Antitrust Division calling for the production of documents” and that “OOCL intends to comply fully with the subpoena”. Maersk Line also confirmed that it was issued a subpoena related to a probe into the container shipping industry on March 15th, but noted that it did not set out any specific allegations against Maersk Line.

The legal moves come after the DoJ expressed concerns with the US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) at possible anti-competitive behaviour by container shippers after they sought approval to form two new “super alliances, which would cover about 45% of global container shipping capacity. In a letter to the FMC in September, Renata Hesse, acting assistant attorney general in the DoJ antitrust division, urged the FMC to prohibit or insist on changes to the Ocean Alliance agreement — made up of CMA CGM (including recently acquired APL)m OOCL, COSCO (including Evergreen) and CSCL.

THE Alliance comprises Mitsui OSK Lines, NYK Line, K Line, Hapag-Lloyd, UASC and Yang Ming Transport.

The 2M Alliance consists of Maersk Line and MSC. The 2M Alliance recently concluded a strategic cooperation agreement with HMM.