Thursday, 29 September 2022 18:54

Press Release - Fines of 4,360,818.28 euros to companies providing harbour tug services

Subject: Decision imposing fines totaling € 4,360,818.28 on the ex officio investigation and a relevant complaint, into the market for the provision of harbour tug services for alleged infringements of articles 1 of L. 3959/2011, and 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The Plenary Session of the Hellenic Competition Commission (hereinafter "HCC"), by its unanimous Decision no. 796/2022, adopted under the simplified settlement procedure of article 25a of L. 3959/2011 and Decision no. 790/2022 (which replaced HCC Decision no. 704/2020)(hereinafter “Notice on the Settlement Procedure”), accepted the relevant settlement proposals submitted by the companies: 1) "VERNICOS TUGS & SALVAGE CONSORTIUM (hereinafter, "VERNICOS"), 2) SPANOPOULOS SALVAGE TUGS CONSORTIUM, (hereinafter, "SPANOPOULOS") 3) MEGALOCHARI TUGS CONSORTIUM, PANTANASSA I SHIPPING COMPANY & MEGATUGS CONSORTIUM (hereinafter, "MEGATUGS"), 4) "ZOUROS TOWAGE AND SALVAGE CONSORTIUM" (hereinafter, "ZOUROS"), 5) "MEGALOCHARI - ZOUROS TOWAGE & SALVAGE CONSORTIUM" (PRO - TUGS), 6) VERNIKOS - KARAPIPERIS - LYMPOUSAKIS CONSORTIUM TUGS AND SALVAGE (AEGEAN TUGS), 7) "MEDITERRANEAN TUGS" (MED TUGS), and 8) "VERNICOS ZOUROS TUGS AND SALVAGE CONSORTIUM" (hereinafter, "VERNIKOS-ZOUROS"), and 9) "VERNICOS SPANOPOULOS TUGS AND SALVAGE CONSORTIUM (hereinafter, "VERNICOS-SPANOPOULOS"), and imposed fines totaling 4,360,818.28 euros.

Background

The Directorate General for Competition (hereinafter "DGC") launched an ex officio investigation into the tug services market on 11.10.2019. While the ex officio investigation was still ongoing, a relevant complaint was filed against some of the undertakings concerned. 

The findings of the Authority’s investigation established the existence of agreements concluded between the aforementioned undertakings, which come within the concept of an agreement between undertakings according to articles 1 of Law 3959/2011 and 101 TFEU.

The undertakings concerned by the investigation, against which evidence capable of establishing a violation of articles 1 of Law 3959/2011 and 101 TFEU was collected, expressed in writing their interest in the settlement procedure and submitted a relevant request, according to the provisions of par. 30 of the Notice on the Settlement Procedure.

It is noted, that in this case, the undertakings involved entered into the settlement procedure prior to the issuance of the relevant Statement of Objections, which increased the HCC’s procedural efficiency.

Settlement Procedure

The Settlement Procedure concerns cases where undertakings or associations of undertakings make a clear and unequivocal acknowledgement of participation in and liability for horizontal agreements and the subsequent breach of competition law (Article 1 of the Greek Competition Act and/or Article 101 TFEU).  As a result, they can obtain a reduction of the imposed fine by 15%, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled.

Following the recent amendment in the Greek Competition Act and the enactment of HCC Decision no. 790/2022, the Settlement Procedure is also applicable to vertical agreements infringing Article 1 of Law 3959/2011 and/or Article 101 TFEU, Article 2 of Law 3959/2011 and/or Article 102 TFEU, as well as to infringements of Article 1A of Law 3959/2011.

The Settlement Procedure aims at simplifying and speeding up the administrative decision-making procedure of the HCC, as well as at reducing the number of appeals against the HCC’s decisions before administrative courts.

The Settlement Procedure allows a better allocation of resources in order to deal with more cases thereby reducing the administrative burden and increasing the deterrent effect of the HCC’s enforcement action, while simultaneously increasing citizens’ awareness in the effective and timely punishment of undertakings infringing competition law.

Relevant market

The relevant product market is defined as the provision of harbour tug services. The relevant geographic market for the purposes of the present case is defined as a) the port of Thessaloniki, b) the ports of Attica and c) the ports of Kavala.

Legal assessment

The horizontal agreements between the investigated undertakings had as their object the restriction of competition, in particular market allocation and the setting of prices (discounts) in the provision of tug services for commercial ships a) in the port of Thessaloniki (both cargo ships and oil tankers, b) in the ports of Attica (oil tankers), and c) in the ports of Kavala (both cargo ships and oil tankers). 

Fines

The HCC imposed reduced fines (a reduction of 15%) under the Settlement Procedure for the violation of Article 1 of Law 3959/2011 and 101 TFEU, in accordance with analysis in the respective Decision.

In consideration of the principles of economic unit and economic succession, the HCC imposed the following fines:

For their participation in the cartel operating in the port of Thessaloniki, with a total duration extending from August 2016 to September 30, 2019, and depending on the duration of each undertaking’s individual participation: on VERNIKOS, 272,349.91 euros; on SPANOPOULOS, 250,116.59 euros; on MEGATUGS, 498,280.58 euros; on ZOUROS, 510,078.57 euros; and on VERNIKOS-SPANOPOULOS, 384,072.82 euros.

For their participation in the cartel operating in the ports of Attica, with a total duration extending from May 2017 to September 30, 2019, depending on the duration of each undertaking’s individual participation: on PRO – TUGS, 1,060,950.56 euros; on MED TUGS, 1,203,324.95 euros; and on SPANOPOULOS, 181,137.25 euros.

For their participation in the cartel operating in the ports of Kavala, with a total duration extending from August 2019 to September 30, 2019: on ZOUROS, 247.57 euros; and on SPANOPOULOS, 259.48 ευρώ.

The total amount of the fines imposed on the above undertakings amounts to 4,360,818.28 euros.

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