Some of Greece’s biggest harbour tug operators received financial penalties for breaching competition laws.

Nine entities were fined €4.36m ($4.26m) in total, the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC) said in a statement.

The companies in question “made a clear and unequivocal acknowledgement of participation in and liability for horizontal agreements and the subsequent breach of competition law, the HCC said.

That acknowledgement made the firms eligible for the commission’s settlement procedure, which allows for a 15% discount on fines.

Officials imposed no other penalties on the firms, which include Vernicos Tugs & Salvage, Spanopoulos Salvage, Megalochari Tugs, Zouros Towage and Salvage and Mediterranean Tugs.

Several of the companies have been publicly involved in mergers and cooperation agreements that saw the domestic tug industry consolidate considerably in recent years.

These corporate moves do not seem affected by the commission decision.

The HCC said in its statement that the nine entities shared the market between them and coordinated discounts for cargo ships and tankers approaching ports around Athens and in the northern cities of Kavala and Thessaloniki.

The commission began its probe in October 2019, just a few days after Greek authorities announced suspending a number of pilots and harbour officials in Thessaloniki and Piraeus as part of a cartel investigation launched by magistrates.

According to a report by the state-run Athens News Agency at the time, the suspects were allegedly forcing shipping companies to pay money under the table to expedite vessels’ approach.

People with knowledge of the matter told TradeWinds that the magistrates initiated their probe after a local tug company complained that it was forced out of business.