(Corrects to read Swiss-headquartered, paragraph 3)
JOHANNESBURG, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Six of the world’s biggest container shipping companies were raided by South African authorities on Wednesday on suspicion of colluding to inflate rates between Asia and South Africa, the country’s Competition Commission said.
An oversupply of vessels has weighed on shipping rates, prompting top-ranked A.P. Moller-Maersk to restructure and forcing South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping Co Ltd into receivership, stranding an estimated $14 billion in cargo on its ships.
The six companies raided comprise local subsidiaries of Denmark’s Maersk, Swiss-headquartered Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), France’s CMA CGM Shipping, Germany’s Hamburg Sud, Singapore-based Pacific International Line and Maersk unit Safmarine, the commission said in a statement.
It said the firms were suspected of engaging in collusive practices to fix incremental rates on the shipment of cargo from Asia to South Africa.
“Any cartel by shipping liners in this region results in inflated prices for cargo transportation,” Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele said.
“Such cartels have the effect of significantly derailing the economic growth of the region.”
A search and seizure operation focused on premises of the six firms will involve confiscating documents and electronic data and follows a tip-off by a member of the public, the commission said.
Maersk and MSC confirmed the raids and said they were cooperating with authorities. The other companies did not respond to requests for immediate comment.
“The fact that the SACC carries out such inspections does not mean that a company has engaged in anti-competitive behaviour,” Maersk said.
EU antitrust regulators in July accepted an offer from Maersk and 13 competitors to change their pricing practices in order to stave off possible fines. (Reporting by Joe Brock; additional reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen and Jonathan Saul in London; editing by Jason Neely)