Earlier this week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Norwegian Shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS (WWL) has agreed to pay a $98.9 million fine for its role in a price-fixing scheme with other international shipping companies that lasted more than a decade.
As part of an ongoing anti-trust investigation, WWL is the fourth shipping company charged in a conspiracy to control prices for the shipment of roll-on, roll-off cargo in and out of the Port of Baltimore and other US ports. The DOJ alleges that the conspirators fixed prices, rigged bids, and allocated customers for the shipment of roll-on, roll-off cargo (which generally includes wheeled vehicles such as cars and trucks and agricultural, construction, and mining equipment) between 2000 and 2012. To date, the four settling shipping companies have agreed to pay more than $230 in fines.
In addition to the fine, WWL has agreed to cooperate in the DOJ’s ongoing anti-trust investigation. It is unclear whether the ongoing investigation will focus on other conspiring companies or, based on the DOJ’s recent pivot toward individual accountability and language from its press release that it seeks to hold “ocean shipping companies and executives” responsible for these crimes, whether the investigation will drill down on the individuals responsible for the alleged scheme. With these massive penalties already agreed to by the companies, where the DOJ focuses its investigation next (other corporations or individuals) could be a bellwether for the tide of individual liability in similar large-scale, industry-wide investigations.