Out of court settlement by Steamships

A long court battle, filed by the Independent Consumer and Competition Commission almost eight years ago against Steamships Trading Company and Consort over shares acquisition, will be withdrawn and settled out of court.

This follows an offer made to ICCC by Steamships for settlement out of court because of a delay by the National Court in progressing the matter.

In November 2011, the ICCC instituted legal proceedings against PNG Main Port Liner services Ltd, Steamships Trading Ltd, Kambang Holdings Ltd and Consort.

ICCC alleged that the acquisition of Kambang’s 34,000 shares in Consort by Mainport in 2009 breached section 69 of ICCC Act 2002.

This provision provides that a person shall not acquire shares of a business if it would likely lessen competition in a market.

“At that time ICCC believed that Consort Express Line Limited was the closest and most competitive rival to Steamships and its subsidiaries in PNG shipping industry, therefore we brought this legal proceeding to enforce the ICCC Act,” said ICCC Commissioner, Paulus Ain.

A number of motions were filed in the case over the years, and as it was about to progress to trial, an offer was made by Steamships for out of court settlement.

“Because of the long journey, as usual business circumstance have changed, people have moved on, business have moved on, so the ability to bring everybody together into a court room and start putting all the evidence together has not been good to us (ICCC) so we said ‘ok, let’s go ahead and settle it’. So we eventually agreed.”

The first ever case brought to court by ICCC over competition, there was a six year delay by the court, which significantly impacted ICCC’s evidence.

Meanwhile, amendments have been made to the ICCC Act, introducing mandatory notification for mergers and acquisitions to ICCC. This will compel companies to notify ICCC of any acquisition before it is completed. This is a step to ensure there is competition in the market.

“So we have now moved away from voluntary regime to mandatory regime so it is now before the process of the government to conclude and eventually get that gazette and effected.”

(ICCC Commissioner, Paulus Ain)

Sally Pokiton