Matson, Horizon named in Hawaii rate-fixing suit
Jones Act ocean carriers Matson Navigation Co. and Horizon Lines Inc. have been accused of conspiring to fix rates in an antitrust class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Hawaii on Tuesday.
The suit, filed by attorneys for Rhythm of Life Cosmetics Inc., alleges that Matson and Horizon attempted to illegally set shipping rates by increasing fuel surcharges out of proportion to the actual increases in fuel costs.
While Horizon was named directly as a defendant in the suit, Matson was listed as an unnamed co-conspirator. Matson handles about 70 percent of the freight shipping between Hawaii and the mainland, with Horizon filling in the remainder.
The suits claims Matson and Horizon raised their fuel surcharges in unison by about 3,800 percent since 1999, while low-sulfur fuel and bunker fuel prices rose about 650 percent and 450 percent, respectively.
The two firms have raised their fuel surcharges numerous time since global fuel prices began to spike several years ago, almost always within days of each other and usually to levels within 1 percent of each other, the suit alleges. Fuel surcharges are based on a percentage cost per container.
Antitrust lawyers in Hawaii, Washington, D.C., San Diego and Kansas City, Mo. are representing Rhythm of Life Cosmetics, which operates under the name Maui Tropical Soaps.
The suit is also seeking class-action certification on behalf of any paying Matson customer since 1999.
Matson and Horizon were both named in an antitrust lawsuit filed earlier this month by a marine equipment firm. Horizon was also named last month in an antitrust lawsuit by a Puerto Rico bus manufacturing firm and in April by a Puerto Rico meat-processing firm.
In addition, federal agents served a search warrant and a grand jury subpoena at Horizon's main offices in Charlotte, N.C., in April as part of an ongoing U.S. Justice Department antitrust investigation against ocean carriers serving Puerto Rico. Matson's parent firm Alexander & Baldwin Inc., also received subpoenas related to the case from federal investigators.
Both carriers have said they are cooperating with all requests from the Justice Department regarding the cases.