Cartel behaviour in shipping was believed to have impacted the price paid for cars in Australia © Getty Images
Cartel behaviour in shipping was believed to have impacted the price paid for cars in Australia © Getty Images

Shipping firm fined $24m for car transport cartel

8 February 2021

Australia’s Federal Court has fined Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean (WWO) $24m for its part in a criminal cartel of shipping companies.

WWO was convicted of cartel conduct following an investigation into shipping companies transporting vehicles to Australia by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The Federal Court heard WWO joined two other multinational shipping companies in dividing up the major vehicle manufacturing customers between themselves on certain shipping routes to Australia from Asia, Europe and the US.

Justice Michael Wigney, who heard the case, said the cartel had sufficient power over transport rates that it was likely to affect the prices paid for cars by Australian consumers.

Cartel members have been fined a total of $83.5m. In August 2017, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) was fined $25m, while K-Line was fined $34.5m in August 2019.

The EU has also carried out investigations into automotive shipping firms in Europe and in 2018 fined four maritime car carriers, including K-Line, €395m. Two suppliers of spark plugs were fined €76m and two suppliers of braking systems fined €75m for cartel conduct.

WWO had already pleaded guilty on 18 June 2020 and had also admitted two further offences of giving effect to cartel provisions in 2009, which was taken into account on sentence.

Justice Wigney said that “on just about any view, this was an extremely serious offence against Australia’s laws which prohibit cartel conduct”.

He described WWO’s conduct as “covert, deliberate, systematic”, and involving planning and deliberation. 

ACCC chair Rod Sims said: “Notably, Justice Wigney emphasised that the fine imposed on WWO ‘was intended to send a powerful message to multinational corporations that conduct business in Australia: that anti-competitive conduct will not be tolerated in Australia and that they will be dealt with harshly by this court if found to have engaged in such conduct’.”

The companies fined by the EU for running a cartel for transporting cars are facing a class action lawsuit from UK consumers who believe they paid over the odds for their cars.

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