The EC recently provided a reminder that cooperation arrangements between competitors must be very carefully handled. The case concerned the maritime industry, but has general application.
Two maritime cooperatives had been established which were aimed at coordinating certain activities of the owners of minibulk and container feeder vessels, mainly in Northern Europe, for example in the joint purchasing of inputs such as fuel. The EC investigated and the cooperatives have had to abandon two aspects of their cooperation due to competition law concerns.
The first problematic aspect was a compensation system set up for owners laying up their vessels (i.e. keeping them idle). The EC considered that this would give the owners an incentive to withdraw capacity from the market, resulting in charter rate increases. The second problematic aspect was an information exchange scheme which would have provided charter rate recommendations to vessel owners on the basis of information collected from them about their own charter rates. This could, the EC considered, have enabled the coordination of rates between competitors that would have likely resulted in charter rate increases.