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February 20, 2003

EC and U.S. trust busters swoop on tanker owners
European trust busters have swooped on a number of chemical tanker operators at the start of what could be a lengthy investigation of suspected price fixing. One of the companies under scrutiny, Norway's Odfjell, said that it is 'cooperating with the EU Commission on this matter.

The company said its, subsidiary Odfjell USA Inc., Houston was yesterday "requested to assist in a parallel investigation initiated by U.S. competition authorities relating to the chemical tanker market. We have requested our subsidiary to actively and fully co-operate to clarify the situation."

Odfjell says it takes the ongoing investigation very seriously. "We have no knowledge of any unlawful conduct and we have initiated our own internal investigation," said a company statement this morning.

Stolt-Nielsen S.A. said yesterday that its London-based Stolt-Nielsen Transportation Group subsidiary is subject to the European Commission's investigation and will cooperate fully.

In response to press inquiries, the European Commission's spokesperson for competition has confirmed that Commission officials yesterday carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of a number of operators of deep sea maritime tanker services. The Commission says the inspections took place in "several" European Economic Area countries. The European Economic Area consists of the 15 European Union states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The latter three are also part of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).

The Commission officials were assisted by the officials of the EU's Member States concerned. The operation was also carried out in close cooperation with the EFTA Surveillance Authority, which is responsible under the terms of the EEA Agreement for inspections carried out at companies located in the EFTA States.

The purpose of these inspections is to ascertain whether there is evidence of a cartel agreement and related illegal practices for deep-sea maritime tanker services.

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The Commission emphasizes that the fact that it carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission says it respects the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

There is no strict deadline to complete cartel inquiries. Their duration is determined largely by the complexity of each case, the exercise of the right of defence and by the respect of the Commission's consultation and other procedures.

The EFTA Surveillance Authority also yesterday confirmed that its inspectors , assisted by officials from the European Commission and the Norwegian competition authority, carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of a number of operators of deep-sea maritime tanker services in Bergen, Norway.

The purpose of the inspections wass to ascertain whether there was evidence of a cartel agreement and related illegal practices in conflict with Article 53 of the EEA Agreement and Article 81 of the EC Treaty in the field of deep-sea maritime transport, it said

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