On 10 April 2017 the European Commission has cleared the acquisition of container liner shipping company Hamburg Südamerikanische Dampfschifffahrts-Gesellschaft KG (HSDG) of Germany by Maersk Line A/S (“Maersk”) of Denmark, subject to conditions. Both Maersk and HSDG are active worldwide in container liner shipping. The clearance is conditional upon the withdrawal of HSDG from five consortia on trade routes connecting Northern Europe and Central America/Caribbean, Northern Europe and West Coast South America, Northern Europe and Middle East, the Mediterranean and West Coast South America and the Mediterranean and East Coast South America, since on these routes the merged entity would have faced insufficient competition.

The two companies involved in the transaction are of particular importance for the container shipping industry, since Maersk is the largest container shipping company in the world, while HSDG is number nine. They offer their services on trade routes through cooperation agreements with other shipping companies. These are known as “consortia” or “alliances” and are based on vessel sharing agreements where members decide jointly on capacity setting, scheduling and ports of call.

After examining the effects of the merger on seventeen trade routes, the Commission found that the merger, as initially notified, would have created new links between Maersk and five of the consortia HSDG belongs to. This would have resulted in anti-competitive effects on the corresponding five trade routes. In particular, these links could have enabled the merged entity to influence competition for a very large proportion of those markets, to the detriment of their commercial customers and, ultimately, of consumers.

Maersk’s proposal to terminate the participation of HSDG in the five consortia has been deemed sufficient by the Commission to eliminate competition concerns and clear the proposed transaction, given that the full compliance with the commitments would entirely remove the problematic links between Maersk and HSDG’s consortia.