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By Jonathan Saul
LONDON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The world’s two biggest container shipping companies on Tuesday said they have been cleared in an investigation of the sector by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ).
Denmark’s Maersk and Switzerland’s Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) were among several companies ordered to testify in an antitrust investigation that began in 2017 over practices by an industry that is the backbone of world trade.
Other lines included Germany’s Hapag Lloyd.
Container companies, which transport everything from TVs to bananas, have tried reduce costs through alliances to pool sailing schedules and port calls. Critics say this can lead to reduced services and increased prices for customers.
Privately-owned MSC, which is the world’s No.2 line, said it had been informed by the DoJ that the department had closed its investigation into MSC and the global container shipping industry without bringing charges or imposing penalties.
“This is an important decision where the global container shipping industry has, once again, been fully investigated and exonerated,” the company said in its statement on Tuesday.
A.P. Moller Maersk confirmed that the DoJ had closed its investigation and had released Maersk from any obligations under the Grand Jury subpoenas issued in March 2017.
Camilla Jain Holtse, A.P. Moller Maersk’s head of competition law and policy, said the company had provided full cooperation throughout the investigation.
A spokesman for Hapag Lloyd declined to comment.
The investigation could have resulted in large fines at a time when the container sector is struggling with slowing global economic growth.
Last week Maersk warned that trade headwinds would slow container demand growth this year, sending its shares down 10 percent. The stock was down 2.3 percent at 1343 GMT on Tuesday and Hapag Lloyd was down 2.8 percent.
The U.S. investigation followed separate cases in other jurisdictions in recent years.
In 2016 European Union antitrust regulators accepted an offer from Maersk and 13 competitors to change their pricing practices to stave off possible fines. (Additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt Editing by Mark Potter and David Goodman)