The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has launched an investigation into a possible cartel in the bunker sector. Several companies may have concluded illegal price-fixing agreements. In the bunker sector, marine gas oil and fuel oil are produced, processed, traded, stored, and transported. Marine gas oil and fuel oil are fuels that are used to power ships. This investigation involves companies that are active in the ports of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp.
The bunker sector is a critical one for the Dutch ports and shipping companies. Across the three mentioned ports, dozens of bunkering companies are active as producers, suppliers or storage providers. The port of Rotterdam is the world’s third largest bunkering port.
Tip-offs and indications
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service provided ACM with valuable information about the bunker sector coming from the police. That information was one of the reasons to launch this investigation. ACM has already conducted several dawn raids in this sector.
ACM calls on the public, including employees (current and former) in this sector, to share any tip-offs and indications about possible cartels they might have. They can also share such information anonymously. Companies and individuals that are part of a cartel, can take advantage of the leniency program. If they do, they may qualify for reductions on their fines. Fines for cartel activities imposed on companies can be as high as 40 percent of their combined global turnover. The maximum fine on individuals that have exercised leadership over cartels is EUR 900,000.
Ports & transport and ACM
The port sectors, together with the port-related transport sectors, make up a key component of the Dutch economy. In this sector, too, fair competition will result in competitive prices, higher quality, and more innovation. For some time now, ACM has focused a great deal of attention on companies in the port sectors and the port-related transport sectors. Healthy competition in the ports will increase the competitiveness of Dutch companies, both home and abroad.
What are the next steps of the investigation?
In the coming months, ACM will assess whether the Dutch Competition Act has indeed been violated. In order to do so, the actual practices need to be investigated in greater detail. In the end, ACM could also come to the conclusion that no violation has been committed. However, if a violation has been established, then the parties will be heard first before any violation can be established definitively, possibly followed by a sanction.